Wings' Anthony Mantha fired up about expanding role

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit Red Wings' Anthony Mantha (39), Henrik Zetterberg (40) and Andreas Athanasiou (72) celebrate Martin Frk's goal against Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom during the second period.

Vancouver, British Columbia — This might surprise those people who know Anthony Mantha as a goal scorer.

And, let’s face it, since being promoted to the Red Wings last season, Mantha has done a good job scoring goals, something he was so prolific at in junior hockey.

But there was a play during Sunday’s victory in Edmonton that Mantha enjoyed just as much, or even more.

And it didn’t involve scoring a goal.

It was a linemate, in this case Martin Frk, scoring a goal.

“For me, making plays is just as good as scoring goals,” Mantha said.

Andreas Athanasiou started the play by forcing Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse into a turnover.

Mantha retrieved the puck and skated into a 2-on-1 rush with Frk. Mantha froze the defender and goalie Cam Talbot with a move, then deftly passed the puck to Frk.

Unleashing his patented one-timer, Frk scored and ended a goal-scoring drought of 10 games.

Mantha looked just as excited as Frk upon the puck going into the net.

“If you look at the best players in the league, guys like (Edmonton’s) Connor McDavid, he’s going to score 30 or 40 goals but he’ll get 70 assists and he’s a great playmaker and that’s just going to help the team.

“For me, it is (exciting to be a playmaker). When Frk scored that one, I was happy for him as I would have been had I shot the puck.”

By the way, Mantha happened to get into the goal scoring department himself Sunday, scoring his seventh goal – and scoring for the third consecutive game.

The quick, productive start has obviously helped the Red Wings, but also gave Mantha further confidence after last season’s 17-goal season.

“It feels great,” said Mantha of this season’s fine start. “Obviously I want it to keep going that way. I want to have a big impact on this team and the way I’m playing right now, it’s helping the team.”

A key reason for Mantha’s development at the NHL level, said coach Jeff Blashill, is Mantha’s dedication to continually be skating.

That wasn’t always the case last season, including Blashill briefly benching Mantha for spotty effort on a backcheck during the second half of the season.

“When he came into the American League and realized there were a lot of players similar to him in talent level, he realized he needed to make some changes,” Blashill said. “To his credit, he wants to be a real good player. He cares a ton and he’s made changes to his game.”

Blashill sees Mantha much more regularly moving his feet these days.

“He has become a guy who does it right more than he used to, and that’s not a knock,” Blashill said. “It’s just the progression of a player. One of the areas for certain is he skates way more now.

“He and I have talked about it a lot. He skated 25 percent of the time, and now he’s closer to 80 or 90 percent of the time.

“And when he’s skating, he’s a good player.”

Options galore

Blashill envisioned playing forward Athanasiou at center at some point, and the opportunity presented itself in Sunday’s victory over Edmonton.

With Blashill blending his lines almost constantly while matching against Edmonton’s McDavid, Athanasiou found himself centering Scott Wilson and Dylan Larkin, or Frk and Tomas Tatar, among others, in a dizzying afternoon.

But in the end, Blashill liked what he saw of Athanasiou in the middle.

“Double-A skates the most when he has the puck,” Blashill said. “Some wingers have learned to skate without the puck and get into open areas. He likes to get the puck and skate, you’re better off at center where you have more ice to work with.”

Blashill brushed off the idea he hasn’t been satisfied with Athanasiou’s defensive commitment.

“It’s been misconstrued,” Blashill said. “Double-A, when he’s playing at a high compete level, he’s very accountable defensively. I’ve never questioned his defensive accountability.”