Pittsburgh — Anthony Mantha scored a hat trick Wednesday in Grand Rapids, but one of the premier Red Wings offensive prospects is likely to bide his time in the American Hockey League before cracking the lineup with the parent club.
The Wings are known around the NHL for liking players overly ripe when they come up from from the Griffins.
Dylan Larkin is a rare exception, and he is proving to be one of the most valuable players this season.
Defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who was probably ready for the NHL a season ago, knows what over-ripe is like. But Ouellet, 22, is on the Wings roster now, and was to appear in his third consecutive game Thursday against the Penguins.
Mantha, 21, picked 20th overall in the first round in 2013, remains with the Griffins.
Coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday that as Mantha gains confidence, unless he proves capable enough to displace one of the scoring forwards currently on the roster — a separate category from role players like penalty killers — he is probably better off developing in the AHL than as a late-season call up for the Red Wings.
“Unless we’re convinced he’s going to beat out one of those guys in the top two lines, I don’t see a scenario where that happens,” said Blashill, who lauded Mantha’s progress this season.
In Grand Rapids on Wednesday, playing against the first-place Milwaukee Admirals, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Mantha scored three goals and assisted on the other in a 4-1 victory.
He managed the feat playing in front of Red Wings general Manager Ken Holland and his assistant, Ryan Martin.
“They said he played really, really good,” said Blashill, who coached Mantha last season.
“He didn’t just get a hat trick, he scored NHL goals. He did a real good job.
“You know, there was some areas of the game he’s got to make sure he continues to improve at: Plays on the wall to get pucks out, coming up and breaking out of his zone, things like that.
“Those are going to be critical things because when you get up here, you’re only allowed a couple of mistakes. And if you stay in your zone lots, it’s real hard to create offense.”
Mantha had 15 goals and 18 assists in Grand Rapids in 62 games last season after three full seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in which, from ages 17-19, he had 129 goals and 131 assists in 187 games for the Val-d’Or Foreurs (“Drillers,” in English).
In 44 games this season, he's matched last matched last season's output with 15 goals and 18 assists.
The Wings considered Mantha’s first year in Grand Rapids disappointing, especially his skating and movement without the puck.
Jim Devellano, their senior vice president, told Fox Sports Detroit that Mantha was “very, very, very disappointing. ... And I say that with a lot of sadness.
“Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him.”
This season, it appears, hope — perhaps a considerable amount — has been restored.
But, Blashill said Mantha must have a significantly positive impact for the Red Wings, when he does arrive — and that is as important for Mantha, he suggested, as it is for the Wings.
“From Anthony’s perspective, I’m glad I’m hearing that he’s playing good. I’m glad that he’s gaining confidence offensively and scoring goals,” Blashill said. “That’s what he was drafted to do, to score.
“He’s a great kid who wants to get better, and he’s going to need to continue to do all those little things great, in order to put himself in the best position when the opportunity arises, here.”
Then, Blashill echoed Holland’s frequent assertion that the NHL hopes of too many young players are dashed when they debut in the league as big disappointments.
“The one thing that I think is real important is that we make sure that we keep him in a spot where he can be really be confident,” Blashill said.
Given Mantha’s skill-set, playing a half-dozen minutes per night is not a good fit, Blashill said. It works for Andreas Athansiou because he is a different kind of player.
“Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou) has a pretty unique ability to have an impact in six or seven minutes because of what his game is: It equates to skating and energy,” Blashill said.
But, Blashill said he believes Mantha iss “on a real good path,” and Holland agrees.
As for a late-season call-up of the sizeable, potential NHL goal-scorer, Blashill basically demurred, listing Tomas Tatar, Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader as players of the sort Mantha must supplant.
And the recently formed line of Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening is playing well offensively, and against some of the opponents top lines.
The situation strictly would limit Mantha’s playing time.
“Again that, to me, doesn’t make any sense, to put him in that situation, when he’s finally beginning to gain confidence.” Blashill said. “I watched him lose confidence last year. I know how that goes in the American league.”
Mantha scored on a penalty shot, a wrist shot from 30 feet and a slap shot from 30 feet.
“Feels good,” he told Griffvision after the game.
“First, having the win is huge,” he said. “For me personally, well, three goals? I just had to shoot the puck a little more and then it ended up real good for me, and my line mates tagged me a few times.
“I thought I was maybe passing the puck a few times too many, and I talked with Tango (Eric Tangradi) and Z (Mark Zengerle), and our mentality was just to shoot the puck.
“And we did real good.”