Blashill takes notice of Anthony Mantha's hot start

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

New York — The Red Wings wanted Anthony Mantha to go down to Grand Rapids and build on his impressive preseason.

Judging on early results, Mantha is doing so.

Mantha tied a Griffins franchise record Tuesday with three power play goals in a 4-3 victory over Iowa.

Grand Rapids trailed by two goals entering the third period, but Mantha scored twice to tie it. He has five goals in three games this season.

“I heard he played good, and that’s great for us,” said coach Jeff Blashill after the Red Wings’ morning skate Wednesday. “The more guys down there playing good, the better off we are. We’re going to need more than the 13 forwards that are currently available to us during the course of the year.

“You know how the year goes between injuries. We like that he played good last night.”

Mantha was the last cut in training camp, beaten out for the final roster spot by Andreas Athanasiou.

Mantha scored three goals in the preseason, but neither Mantha or Athanasiou were particularly consistent throughout the exhibitions.

It was Athanasiou’s experience from a season ago,  scoring nine goals for the Red Wings, that gave him the edge over Mantha, who had two goals in a brief stay in the NHL.

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The Red Wings wanted Mantha to go down to Grand Rapids and dominate the American Hockey League, something he hasn’t yet done over two seasons.

“Our young guys, even Double-A for example, they didn’t get a chance to be elite yet in the American League,” Blashill said. “The way (Gustav) Nyquist was, the way (Tomas) Tatar was, the way (Tomas) Jurco has been.

“So when I see five goals in three games, when I hear he’s playing the right way, hear he’s doing the right things now and he’s starting to get dominant ...  You want to see them dominate the level below to make sure he’s ready to do the same thing at the level above.

"It’s impossible to expect a player to be big time offensively when he wasn’t down there. He’s taking great steps.”

Blashill told Mantha to stay patient and be ready to pounce on the opportunity in the NHL when it comes.

“As I told him he looked like he had improved a vast amount,” Blashill said. “He’s much more, in my opinion, ready to step in now. He has to be ready to jump through the window of opportunity whenever that opportunity comes.”

Helm's offensive surge 

Blashill isn’t surprised by the quick offensive start by Darren Helm, who scored three goals over the first three games.

Helm’s line with Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek has been the most consistent going back to the exhibition season, and the two wingers are both capable of using Helm’s speed to create offensive chances.

“Helm had (nine) goals the second half of last season, he’s guy that obviously get into a lot of chances because of his speed and energy and tenacity that he plays with,” Blashill said.

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Along with the hot start offensively, Helm hasn’t forgotten his usual calling card which is creating havoc for opponents.

“When Helmer is at his best, and he’s played excellent pretty much every game, he’s on the puck and creates a lot of turnovers,” Blashill said. “The two other guys (Vanek, Nyquist) on that line are good set up guys, and they give Helmer a chance to score goals for sure.”

Larkin endures adjustment period

Dylan Larkin’s switch to center has been an early education in the season’s opening games.

“I’ve gotten better every game,” Larkin said. “It’s been a work in progress at center, but I’ve been playing with good players. There have been some tough bounces (Larkin was minus-5 through three games).”

Learning to play under control at center, getting readjusted to taking faceoffs, and pushing the pace when the opportunity arises are keys, said Larkin.

But, overall, Larkin feels better than he did as a rookie at this point last season.

“I don’t know if I feel much more different, feel more comfortable than last year,” Larkin said. “Knowing the guys and they know what I can do and bring to the table. I’m not trying to be anyone I’m not, just trying to be myself and play hockey.”