It's easy to get excited about prospects. Hell, I used to get way over-enthused about them myself, and still am guilty of such actions to this day. With high excitement of a player, comes high expectations of a player. That's just the routine conduct of a fervent sports fan. In 2013, Detroit had a very intriguing and special player fall in their hands come time of the Entry Draft. After trading their 18th overall pick down to acquire a 20th overall pick, and a 58th overall pick from San Jose, Detroit saw an opportunity in goal-scorer extraordinaire Anthony Mantha, and took him in the first round, a player who was ranked number 10 out of all North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
In his season following being drafted, Anthony Mantha had a breakout season in the QMJHL scoring 81 goals in 81 games, with a total of 158 points (combining regular season and playoffs.) Impressive? Absolutely. Exciting? You freaking bet. Detroit hasn't had a prospect like that in years. So the illustrious lure of a player who has the ability to light up the score sheet can have a tendency to make fans chomp at the bit to get him into the NHL. However, Big Tony is a special case..
Fast-forward to his rookie AHL campaign, Anthony has 13 points (six goals, seven assists) through 30 games. Not exactly impressive by any means. Some scouts would call him "snakebitten," I like to call him "adjusting to a superior product of hockey." There's no denying it, folks.. CHL hockey is leaps and bounds from what the AHL is. Canadian junior hockey has an age range which is roughly about 16 years old to 20 years old. Most players, not even adults yet. Whereas the AHL level is stocked with organization's top prospects, and a healthy dose of players who have served time in the NHL prior, but are in the AHL now due to being waived, conditioning, or on PTO contracts. On most nights, hockey games in the CHL can have upwards of 10 goals scored. There's no denying it, Anthony is a big boy. He was often one of the biggest players on the ice on any given night when he was with Val d'Or. Being such a big guy, in a league with a lot of younger players can create some habits in his style of play that just won't translate to professional North American hockey. I've seen him play a handful of times so far this season, whether it's in person, or on my computer screen.. I can tell that at times, Anthony is very much guilty of just "floating" around the ice. It's a habit that most players have to learn to overcome. Hell, even guys like Tomas Jurco were guilty of it. I remember when he was in his rookie season, it took him a bit to adjust to the style of play. Once he figured it out, he was an ace in the American League.
Let's also not forget, Mantha suffered a somewhat serious leg fracture over the summer. He hasn't been practicing or training as long as some of the other players on his squad have been. I'm not making excuses for the guy, I'm just trying to stress that it hasn't been very easy for him from the get-go of things. He's averaging about 2.4 shots a game, which is severely fewer than what he averaged in the QMJHL. It's simple, less shots, means less chances, less chances, means less scoring. Right? Right!
Now I also want to be clear, it's so important to not put a boatload of stock into prospects. Success in one league does not necessarily convert to the other. Let's not forget players like Dave Bolland, Kirk Maltby, and Darren McCarty all had seasons in the junior leagues with 90+ points. I'm not saying Anthony Mantha is the next Dave Bolland or Darren McCarty, but it just serves as an eye-opener.. Anything is possible with these sort of players. The point of this article, is to just remind fans, the organization, and other people who follow the sport to be patient with these players. Not every player can come into the AHL like Teemu Pulkkinen did and score 30 goals.
So what do I think? I think Mantha will finish out his AHL season with 40+ points, and be woefully overanalyzed as a player come this offseason. I say, give him at least a year. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the guy turns it on here soon and starts lighting it up again. I'm just saying, if he doesn't, I must stress composure with these situations. Anthony Mantha is a very gifted and special hockey player, and we are all excited for him. Personally, I believe he'll be like what we want Johan Franzen to be now - A goal-scorer who can create room using his big frame, and puck-moving senses. I fully believe that one day in the near future we will be able to call a player like Johan Franzen an "Anthony Mantha Lite."
You can call me crazy, and I'll call you correct. Case in point, we must be patient with him. He's got the skill, he's got the work ethic, and he sure as hell has got the tools.. I have every reason to believe that he will pan out into a great hockey player at the professional level.