Mantha's mission: Make Wings' roster, play more

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Anthony Mantha had two goals and one assist in 10 games with the Red Wings last season.

Detroit — Anthony Mantha had a taste of the NHL late last season. Now, Mantha wants more.

The much-hyped prospect finally appeared with the Red Wings in March. He had two goals and one assist in 10 games, not looking out of place in the lineup.

With training camp opening next week, Mantha is concentrating on beginning the season in Detroit.

“I just need to be ready, be in my spot, play my game,” said Mantha, who turned 22 on Friday. “I need to be hard on pucks, score a few goals. I need to be a good net-front presence, win my one-on-one battles.

“It all comes down to being intense and wanting the puck more than I did in the past few years.”

At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Mantha has the size and scoring touch that continue to make him one of the intriguing prospects in the organization.

But Mantha’s inconsistency, learning how to play hard every game, and struggles defensively have kept him in Grand Rapids, although last season (21 goals in 60 games) was an upgrade over his rookie season (15 goals in 62 games).

Mantha broke his right tibia during the prospects tournament in 2014 leading to a disappointing rookie pro season all the way around. But Mantha sees the injury now as a positive.

“If you look back at that injury it helped me out long-term and face those kind of situations. I learned a lot from that season,” Mantha said. “I had to step up the next season, and that’s what I did. I just need to step up again this season.

“Last year was a good first year for me to be net-front. It was the first time for me practicing it. I worked on tips a lot during practices, getting the feel of being in the right position in front of the goalie’s eyes. It could be a good advantage for me, being 6-4, 6-5.”

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Those 10 games with the Red Wings last spring gave Mantha confidence and motivation as well as valuable learning experience.

“The work ethic the guys have,” said Mantha, of what he took out from his experience. “If it’s after a game, the guys are in the gym working out or stretching, being intense every shift and every game.

“I just focus on those 10 games last year. This summer, that was a motivation for me. The goal is to play more, to make the team. I had a great summer training off-ice and on-ice. I’ve been skating with these guys for probably two or three weeks now. I’m ready for camp and I just can’t wait to get it started.”

It’s unlikely the Red Wings would keep Mantha unless a position opens among the top-nine forwards, giving Mantha an opportunity to play and maximizing his offensive game.

But Mantha feels he could help in whatever role the Red Wings give him.

“You can adjust your game any way they want,” Mantha said. “It would be easier for me if I could play on the top-nine, that’s how I play my kind of game. But I’ll be ready for any kind of position they put me in.”

With Tomas Jurco (back) and Teemu Pulkkinen (shoulder) both hurt and not likely to start the regular season, there could be an opening on the roster. Mantha is going into camp looking to start in Detroit.

“The main goal is to make the team,” Mantha said. “I just need to be ready when camp starts. When we leave on the 21st, I need to be ready on the 21st or the 22nd when it starts. I need to show what I have and how I can play my game.”

Twitter: @tkulfan