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Anthony Mantha Must Remain Patient... or Slap Jeff Blashill out of a Window... or something

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A big fish in a small pond risks starvation

Detroit Red Wings v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I’m going to preface as a fan that I’m not in the locker room, wasn’t in training camp, and know very little beyond my own observations and what guidance I’m handed from our intrepid local beat reporters. I’m going to do that because I have to accept there are factors at play that I don’t know about. I need to be up front that I’m speculating because it’s the responsible thing to do. Please draw your own conclusions.

Anthony Mantha should be on the Red Wings’ roster and him not being there is a bad idea.

Of course, this isn’t a new opinion or a particularly outlandish one. It’s just that since Mantha scored a hat trick last night against the Iowa Wild and now has five goals in three games at the AHL level this season, the push to have him on the roster is strong enough that even the national media is jumping in to explain why he isn’t.

Take Nick Cotsonika today on Twitter, the same day he penned a very nice article about Thomas Vanek that had to throw in a piece about Vanek’s signing basically sealing Mantha’s fate.

Ok, so far here’s the evidence we have against Mantha:

  1. He’s not as good as Thomas Vanek
  2. He isn’t a completely polished 2-way player

Both of these things are true right now, in my opinion. However, the basis for them being necessary is badly flawed.

  1. Let’s assume that Thomas Vanek, Riley Sheahan, and Justin Abdelkader count as the “big winger reasonably assumed to score goals” crew that’s keeping Mantha out right now. Let’s also not get lost in the weeds arguing Mantha against any of those three. Instead, let’s ask why we only have three of those slots on a four-line team?
  2. The concept of a 2-way player is one who provides both offense and defense, right? Mantha isn’t as good defensively as Drew Miller or Steve Ott. Why is it acceptable to be one-dimensional favoring defense and frowned upon to have offense as your primary dimension? Also, if you want a guy to develop NHL-caliber defensive instincts (which is kind of a weird primary consideration for a winger anyway), then the NHL is the correct league for doing that.

Now there is another nugget in there that we can call somewhat reasonable in regards to Mantha belonging in Grand Rapids (again, we’re not getting into the weeds of arguing Mantha versus Sheahan, Vanek or Abdelkader though.)

Here’s the thing: I have trumpeted this in the past. It’s sometimes better for a prospect to get big minutes against the best of the AHL than scrub minutes against the scrubs of the NHL. I just don’t believe it’s true in this case, especially given Jeff Blashill’s own words about what he wants to do with his four lines:

“I would say the minute distribution would be more even than it was last year and I would also include the fourth line on that,” Blashill said. “I think we are going to have to be a four-line team. We are going to need to have depth of scoring. And then we’ve got to be real good about being merit-based.”

That’s from Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press on October 8th.

So while the concept of Mantha not playing enough minutes on the fourth line is here, Jeff Blashill himself said that this isn’t the usage he wants out of his forward lines.

Here’s Helene with Blashill today about Mantha

“When I see five goals in three games, when I hear that he is playing the right way, when I hear he is doing those things, now he is starting to get to dominate,” Blashill said of Mantha. “You want a player to dominate the level below to make sure he is ready to do the same thing at the level above. It’s impossible to expect a player to be big-time offensive player up here if he wasn't down there.

“I think he has great steps in the right directions. As I told him, he looked like he’d improved a vast amount. He’s much more ready to step in. Now he’s got to be ready to jump through the window of opportunity whenever that window comes. His job is not to dictate when the window comes, his job is to make sure he is ready.”

Full article here.

It’s easy to parse out that only three games of Manthamania runnin’ wild on the best defenders the AHL has to offer isn’t enough domination just yet. After all, Justin Abdelkader scored a hat trick and had five points in the first three games of the NHL season last year and ended up with a disappointing 19 goals. If the Wings were in the habit of jumping the gun, they might have done something crazy and given him a seven-year extension after that hot start.

But it’s weird for Jeff Blashill to say that it’s not Mantha’s job to dictate when his window of opportunity comes so quickly after saying he wanted Mantha to slap him in the face. Perhaps I’m presuming too much, but a slap in the face sure sounds like somebody dictating something.

What kind of cracks me up is that Mantha is eventually going to get his callup. It’s almost certainly going to happen this year due to injury (provided he isn’t traded first). When that happens, the chances that Mantha immediately joins the upper echelons of scoring elites are pretty low, and demands he be up right now are going to be met with a smarmy “I told you so.” from the water-carriers. It feeds directly into the idea that Mantha can’t have any room for development in the NHL; it’s a false promise that he can be completely ready for a league that is much, much better because he stomped mudholes all over the one much much worse.

The saving grace for Blashill about his quote is that he doesn’t answer whose job it is to dictate when Mantha’s window comes. As of this writing, requests to ask Ken Holland to clarify have yet to be answered, but I think we know where that responsibility lies, and it isn’t on Blashill’s desk either.

Anthony Mantha belongs on the Red Wings’ roster and in their lineup right now. It’s not just the three games which show that, but all of the evidence from past years and everything he’s shown so far since September. He might not be a dominant game-changer in the NHL at this point, but the concept that this is the expectation of him right out of the gate is badly flawed.