Dominant start earns Anthony Mantha promotion to Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Anthony Mantha

Detroit – The Red Wings have temporarily replaced one highly-touted youngster with another.

Andreas Athanasiou was placed on injured reserve – he has a knee sprain – and the Red Wings recalled forward Anthony Mantha from minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids on Friday.

The two players, ironically, competed for one of the final roster spots out of the preseason, with Athanasiou, 22, getting the edge because of his broader NHL experience last season.

Now, with Athanasiou hurt, Mantha gets another chance.

Mantha, 22, is tied atop the American League with eight goals through the first 10 games for the Griffins this season.

“That’s how I had to start the year,” said Mantha, who was told by general manager Ken  Holland and coach Jeff Blashill it was important to go down to the AHL and dominate. “That’s what I’m showing off with the start I had and I just need to bring the same (to the NHL).”

Mantha leads the Griffins with eight goals, 10 points, four power-play goals and 32 shots.

“Certainly at times he’s done what we’ve asked him to do, which is look like he’s in the wrong league,” Blashill said. “The more you do that on a consistent basis in the American League, the more you’re telling people you’re an NHL player.”

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Mantha admits being sent down in October was frustrating. But pouting and feeling sorry for himself was not an option.

“I won’t lie, it was frustrating – for sure I wanted to stay here,” Mantha said. “At the same time I can’t sit down and be mad about it. I have step up and bring my game to another level to get the chance to get called up and that’s what I did.”

Mantha added weight and upper-body strength last summer, and at 6-foot-5 and 204 pounds, adds a dimension the Red Wings haven’t had.

“There’s a notable difference in his body composition,” Blashill said. “That’s something I challenged him on at the end of last year, the organization challenged him, and he seemed to really answer that.

“When you’re that size of a guy and be that kind of a load, it can be a real asset for a team that doesn’t have that a lot of big forwards.”

In 10 games with the Red Wings last season, Mantha had two goals and two assists. He’ll be in the lineup Saturday in Montreal, his hometown – where Mantha scored in a game last season.

“Pure luck or just good timing,” said Mantha of the games in Montreal. “I’ll have around 20 to 30 people watching. It’ll be pretty exciting.”

Athanasiou sprained his knee on a hit by Vancouver defenseman Nikita Tryamkin during Thursday’s 3-1 victory over the Canucks.

“There’s a minimum of seven days (on the injured list),” Blashill said. “We’ll see from there and we’ll reevaluate after that time.”

Athanasiou has four goals and one assist in 13 games with a plus-1 rating.

Big challenge

Montreal has the best record in the NHL (12-1-1, 25 points), hasn’t lost a home game this season (9-0-0) and goalie Carey Price is undefeated (9-0-0) with a .953 save percentage.

Saturday’s game will be a huge test for the Red Wings.

“We’re excited, it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Gustav Nyquist said. “It’s a team that we want to inch closer to and they’ve been off to a good start. But it’ll be a fun challenge.”

Montreal traded star defenseman P.K. Subban for another star defenseman, Shea Weber, in the summer and the move has paid off well. Weber has 11 points and is a plus-16.

But Price is the major reason Montreal is lapping the field.

“The guy they have between the pipes, he could probably be the best player in the league,”  said goalie Jimmy Howard, who’ll start for the Red Wings. “When he plays there’s a calmness about their team. They know he’s back there and he’s going to make saves for them.”

Ice chips

Blashill said forward Tomas Jurco (back) had a setback last week and his return to the lineup has been pushed back “a few weeks.” Jurco had back surgery over the summer and has yet to play this season.

… Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg and Frans Nielsen didn’t skate Friday. “Maintenance days,” said Blashill, who added all will play Saturday.

Red Wings at Canadiens

Faceoff: Saturday, 7 p.m., Bell Centre, Montreal

TV / radio: Fox Sports Detroit / 97.1 FM

Outlook: It’s the first game between the Atlantic Division rivals this season. … Montreal has the best record (12-1-1) in the league and hasn’t lost at home (9-0-0). … C Alex Galchenyuk (14 points) leads a balanced offensive attack.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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