Detroit – With all these young players on the Detroit Red Wings’ roster, what everyone wants to see is steady development.
That has been the case this season for Anthony Mantha.
There have been glitches, sure. Mantha hasn’t been immune from stern criticism from coach Jeff Blashill.
But Mantha leads the Red Wings with 24 goals – he had 17 last season – and with 46 points, he has 10 more than a year ago.
What has pleased Mantha this season is his work on being consistent, and overcoming long scoring droughts for the most part.
“My consistency this year was a little better the whole year,” Mantha said. “I just had a big slump here (Thursday’s goal ended a 12-game drought), but I was playing pretty good hockey in general. It’s something I talked to Blash (coach Jeff Blashill) about a lot last year.
“It was something he thought I got better at.”
One of the most important areas Mantha has taken a big step forward is his work around the net.
At 6-foot-5, with good strength, Mantha can be a factor around the net in a variety of ways – blocking a goaltender’s vision, using his own deft hands to convert scoring opportunities, and create opportunities for others.
Blashill always has believed Mantha could be an effective net-front presence.
“A lot of guys naturally think of the net-front as almost a non-skilled position,” Blashill said. “Mike Knuble (former Red Wings player) told this to me a long time ago: He found the one spot on the ice in the slot area that he knew he could score and it kept him in the league a long time.
“He (Mantha) scores lots of goals. That what net-front does. It gets you around the area where you score. If you want goals to come and not from just snipes, be around the net as much as possible.”
Mantha hadn’t played much net-front. He remembers playing there his second season in Grand Rapids, but mostly has played the half-wall, as teams took advantage of his shot.
But Mantha has grasped the importance and skills needed in the position.
“You’re used to playing half-wall for six, seven years and then the next year you’re playing net-front, but I watched clips, watched a lot of guys during games,” Mantha said. “Learning the details of placing the body, brushing the defenseman out at the right moment.
“You start learning and then you practice every day. It’s completely different.”
‘The right way’
Dylan Larkin struggled at times last season before finally finding his stride in the last quarter of the schedule.
The adversity Larkin went through has benefitted this season. He has provideda consistent offensive presence, and has nine points in the last seven games.
“He came into the league flying and everything went well for him,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Then last year, when he played center, it’s a little different. But this year he’s playing hockey the right way.
“He learned to take responsibility both ways (offense, defense). If you think about it, he picked it up pretty quick. He’s playing penalty kill, power play, taking big faceoffs. I’m happy to see his development.
“We all know he’s going to be here and be real good for many years.”
Evgeny Svechnikov struggled earlier this season in Grand Rapids after not making the Red Wings, and going through injuries.
But in the second half of the season Svechnikov got healthy and confident, and it’s fueled his audition with the Red Wings since being recalled.
“There’s been moments in the second half (of the season) where he’s looked more like he did a year ago,” Blashill said. “They (the Griffins) have a little different lineup than a year ago. They had some real dynamic centers a year ago, they don’t have the same dynamics up the middle this year, so that’s important for a winger.
“That, and how hard Evgeny is on himself are two things that set him back at the beginning of the year. He’s had to claw his way out of it.”