After the landslide of injuries that occurred in November, the Detroit Red Wings finally decided to call-up heralded forward Anthony Mantha. Despite all of his success in juniors, Mantha has been called "very, very, very disappointing" by Red Wings' Senior Vice President and Alternate Governor Jim Devellano. In April of this year, he was called a "spare part" by Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. Needless to say, management had low expectations for Mantha heading into this call-up. Since being called up, Mantha has been Detroit's best forward and appears to be blossoming into the two-way power forward the Wings have so desperately craved.
Mantha's Offensive Brilliance
Mantha's offensive abilities have never been a concern. He scored 81 goals in 81 games as a junior in the QMJHL and started off this season with eight goals in his first 10 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins. From an eye test perspective, it's easy to see why he's so successful. Below are a few clips demonstrating why he's been so successful with the Wings.
This one is obvious but has to be noted - Mantha has an elite shot. Check out a couple of shots he's fired this season.
Watch how he wheels from behind the net and then picks the top corner with ease.
Yes, the broadcast had to slow down the replay just so you could see where his shot went. There are few players in the league who can score from outside the dot on their wing, let alone against one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. However, as we've seen with Teemu Pulkkinen, it's nice if you have a great shot, but if you can't create space to get the shot off, it's relatively useless. Additionally, it's imperative that a player generates "high-quality" chances on a consistent basis.
Using expected goals which assesses the "quality of shot" taken by a player and can help us predict future scoring, we can see that Mantha is consistently generating good scoring chances.
data from @DTMAboutHeart
From this chart, we see that Mantha leads all Red Wings' forwards in 5v5 individual expected goals per 60 minutes (ixG60). Why is that important? Well, DTMAboutHeart found that ixG60 better estimates future goal scoring as compared to individual goals per 60 (iG60) and individual shots attempts per 60 minutes (iCF60).
The takeaway from these two charts would be that Mantha is generating high quality chances on a consistent basis and as such, can be expected to continue scoring at a good clip. The eye test backs this up as he continues to generate high level scoring chances all by himself. Check out this move he made against the New York Islanders that almost resulted in a goal.
Unlike Dylan Larkin last year, Mantha has a PDO (Sum of 5v5 On-Ice Sh% + 5v5 On-Ice Sv%) of 103.84 which is driven by his the Sv% (96.49%) as opposed to the Shot% (6.85%). What that means is I do expect more goals to eventually go in against the Wings when Mantha is on the ice, but there's not much suggesting that Mantha is getting lucky from an offensive standpoint. His individual all-situations shot% is 10% which is not unreasonable, as opposed to Larkin who had an all-situations Sh% of 14.67% at this time last year. It's why many felt that Larkin's scoring pace would slow down last year, whereas I'd expect Mantha to be able to sustain his current pace.
However, Mantha's offensive game extends beyond individual scoring. He's also one of the strongest drivers of shot attempts relative to his teammates. Looking at 5v5 shot attempts and adjusting for the score, we see that Mantha is second in the NHL among forwards in his ability to drive shot attempts relative to his teammates
Top 10 Forwards in 5v5 Score-Adjusted Rel CF%
|Player||5v5 Score-Adjusted Rel Shot Attempt For%|
data from Corsica.hockey (>100 mins played)
Essentially, when Mantha is on the ice, he drives shot attempts relative to his teammates better than everyone in the NHL, save Marchand. It's worth noting that Mantha's sample size is only 11 games, which is half the size of other guys on this list. Nonetheless, it is still an impressive first 11 games from Mantha and it will be worth following to see if he can maintain this pace.
A big reason for Mantha's early offensive success is his instant chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Tatar. Mantha's offensive IQ shines when playing with these guys. Check out one of his early season passes to Zetterberg that led to a goal.
The Tatar-Zetterberg-Mantha line always seems to have the puck. When we turn to the shot attempt numbers, we find this to be true. Of all the line combinations that have played at least 50 minutes together at 5v5, the Tatar-Zetterberg-Mantha line is one of the best in the NHL at controlling shot attempts.
Top 5 Forward Combos in 5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi For%
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||5v5 TOI||5v5 ScAdj CF%||5v5 Scoring Chance For%||5v5 GF60||5v5 GA60|
|Sidney Crosby||Conor Sheary||Carl Hagelin||64.06||72.03%||71.36%||3.95||0.00|
|Nicklas Backstrom||Andre Burakovsky||Marcus Johansson||60.19||66.18%||66.26%||2.08||2.05|
|Jordan Eberle||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Patrick Maroon||57.67||65.50%||67.16%||4.22||3.06|
|Jordan Staal||Sebastian Aho||Teuvo Teravainen||50.38||65.13%||86.28%||2.23||0.00|
|Tomas Tatar||Anthony Mantha||Henrik Zetterberg||71.96||64.77%||71.52%||3.08||0.93|
data from Corsica.hockey (>50 mins played together at 5v5)
When the Tatar-Mantha-Zetterberg line is on the ice at 5v5, 64.77% of all shot attempts taken are taken by the Red Wings. That's dominant and one of the best lines the Wings have iced since Zetterberg played with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom.
Mantha's Unheralded Defense
As good as Mantha has been offensively, I've been most impressed with his defense. Mantha's ability to get in on the forecheck quickly, recover loose pucks in the offensive zone, and keep plays alive in the offensive zone have been a big reason why the Wings take far more shot attempts when he's on the ice. Watch how quick he is to the loose pucks in this clip.
Mantha wins three loose-puck battles in the offensive zone, allowing the Wings to maintain the puck in the offensive zone for 45 seconds. This is a big reason why opposing teams generate very few shots against the Wings when Mantha is on the ice.
In addition to his ability to win loose-puck battles, Mantha has also demonstrated excellent hockey IQ in deciding when to attack from his "third man high" position. As the third-man high, Mantha's primary responsibilities are to make sure that he doesn't get trapped low and that he's able to support his defensemen to prevent a 3-on-2 rush if the first two forecheckers are beat. However, if timed correctly, the third man can jump in to apply pressure on the opposition as they try to break out of their zone. It can be risky and ill-advised if done poorly, but Mantha showcases his high IQ on Zetterberg's 3rd period goal vs. the Islanders.
In a flash, you see Mantha come flying in from his high position to force a turnover and five seconds later the puck is in the back of the net. These are the kinds of plays that don't show up on the scoresheet, but are captured in him having very low shots against and very strong offensive numbers. It's a big reason why he's earned the trust of head coach Jeff Blashill in defensive situations. Only Drew Miller has earned fewer 5v5 offensive faceoff zone starts among Red Wings forwards.
Red Wings F's, ranked by 5v5 Fewest Offensive Faceoff Zone Start%
|Player||5v5 OZS%||5v5 DZS%|
data from Corsica.hockey
Additionally, Mantha has seen his far share of opposing top-six forwards.
Overall, Mantha has been outstanding this season. He's generating chances at a fantastic rate, driving shot attempts at an elite level, and has found chemistry with Zetterberg and Tatar. At this point in time, it's hard to argue against Mantha being the Red Wings best forward. When Abdelkader, Athanasiou, and Helm get healthy, Ken Holland will have to make some tough decisions about who stays and who goes. It should be non-negotiable that Mantha remains with the big club.