Traverse City – Anthony Mantha is practicing, playing hockey, and getting ready for the season.
It's a dramatic difference from a year ago at this time, when Mantha's dreams and expectations were temporarily shattered.
"Last season I couldn't practice with the guys, couldn't play in the scrimmages. Having the chance this year is a big difference," said Mantha, who fractured his left tibia during the NHL Prospects Tournament a year ago and missed the first two months of the regular season.
A much-hyped 2013 first-round draft pick, there was talk of Mantha possibly stepping from junior hockey directly into the NHL, bypassing the minor leagues.
The injury ended that speculation. Then, Mantha struggled in his rookie pro season in Grand Rapids, showing he was a good ways from the NHL.
After scoring 81 goals in 81 junior games, Mantha only scored 15 goals in 62 games with the Griffins, and suddenly was the subject of trade rumors at the trade deadline.
In the AHL playoffs, Mantha again failed to make an impact with only two goals and two assists in 16 games.
Coming back from injury, adjusting to and learning the pro game, it all seemed to snowball for Mantha.
"For sure I learned a lot," Mantha said. "It was a learning process throughout the year. I talked a lot with Blash (coach Jeff Blashill), watched a lot of video, so this year it's like a fresh start and I know what I need to do."
A 6-foot-5, 214-pound winger, Mantha was bigger and better than his peers in junior hockey. But in the AHL, Mantha was playing against men and discovered his talent wasn't enough.
"Anytime you move up levels, same as the American League to the NHL, you probably got away with things at the previous level," Blashill said. "You have to find a way to play the right way, especially in our system, where we demand you play a 200-foot game from the defensive side of the puck. It takes a while to learn to create offense while playing that way."
Mantha learned plenty, it appears.
"The speed of the play, always having a guy close to you," said Mantha of one of his biggest adustments to the pros. "You need to make your play a half-second faster than it was in junior. That was one of the biggest things to get used to.
"I really wanted to play with the Red Wings (right out of juniors). Now I've learned the mentality of how they do things and how hard it is to make the Red Wings. It's a different path and I just have to keep going."
It's a near certainty Mantha will begin the season in Grand Rapids, but Mantha doesn't necessarily view that as a negative.
In a way it's an opportunity to wipe the disappointment of last season out of mind.
"If it's Detroit or Grand Rapids I have to prove I can play either way," Mantha said.
Coach Jeff Blashill talks about Tomas Jurco, Mike Green and his old boss Mike Babcock.