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How Should Jeff Blashill Use Anthony Mantha in 2016-17?

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How did Mantha perform this year? Was he really the powerplay's savior? Can he hang in the NHL? Should he be on the team out of camp? Read on to find out.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Mantha - The Basics
  • Birthday: 9/16/1994 (21 years ago)

  • Drafted: 2013, 20th overall

  • NHL Games Played: 10

  • NHL Points: 3 (2G, 1A)

  • Height: 6’5"

  • Weight: 214 lbs

  • Best Asset: Goal scoring prowess.

  • Biggest Limitation: Lack of game-to-game consistency.

  • Short description: Former QMJHL MVP and CHL Player of the Year who had a tough first year as a pro. Still has the size, hands and skating to be a top-6 NHL scoring winger.
What Happened This Year

Anthony Mantha got his first taste of NHL action as the Red Wings struggled to make the playoffs yet again. He was called up in mid-March to aid a Red Wings offense that finished 23rd in the league and a powerplay which had struggled throughout the season. In 10 games Mantha managed to score 2 goals on the powerplay, both against Montreal, and added an assist at 5v5. Although he played his first 8 games with Datsyuk and Tatar or Helm he quickly fell down the depth chart. In his 9th and 10th games he skated 6 minutes per game with Luke Glendening and Andreas Athanasiou on the Wings’ fourth line. Rather than play him on the fourth line or scratch him the Red Wings sent Mantha back to Grand Rapids in early April. He finished the AHL season with 45 points in 60 games played and added another 11 points in 9 playoff games for the Griffins.

Some Fancystats

I guess you could call Mantha’s play in the NHL a little underwhelming if you just look at his raw point totals and don’t actually examine any underlying numbers. 3 points in 10 games isn’t magnificent after all. But his underlying numbers stack up well against the rest of the team. Corsi For Percentage, Corsi For Per 60 min., Expected Goals For Per 60 min., you name it. Mantha's numbers are strong in each metric.

Below are his powerplay stats and respective team rank.

Data from War-On-Ice and Corsica.Hockey.

So what do all those numbers and abbreviations mean? Good things were happening in the offensive zone with Anthony Mantha on the ice. Granted, he was playing with Tomas Tatar and Pavel Datsyuk who are both terrific offensively. But the fact that he kept pace with those two players is very encouraging. In Mantha's 10 game stint just Pavel Datsyuk and Dylan Larkin posted a comparable CF60 at 5v5. Just Nyquist, Tatar and Sheahan each had a better xGF60 mark at 5v5. There’s no way around the fact that Mantha played as good as anyone could have asked while in Detroit. He was called up to get pucks to the net, stand in the crease and generate scoring chances – and he delivered.

Mantha’s Impact on the Powerplay

Before Mantha was called up in March the Red Wings’ powerplay sat at 17%, 24th in the NHL. He was mainly used as a net-front presence on the powerplay, going to the dirty areas of the ice, driving into the crease and screening the goalie. We already know he lead the team in offensive production rates at 5v5 and on the man advantage, but what was the result? How much better were the Wings at scoring goals with Mantha on the powerplay? See the table below to find out.

*Includes 3 regular season games and 5 postseason games
Data from War-On-Ice and Corsica.Hockey.

Clearly there’s some correlation between Mantha’s presence and the Red Wings’ powerplay success. But is there causation? That could be left up to debate, but I think so. Of course he’s not the only reason our powerplay suddenly caught fire, there were four other skaters out there with him. But he definitely had a hand in resurrecting the powerplay. Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan are good in front of the net but I think Mantha brought a different dimension to that role with his larger frame and better offensive instincts.

The powerplay went from below-average to unsustainably good to unsustainably bad. Each of these changes was timed perfectly with Mantha’s arrival and departure. That doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me. Did he put up a lot of points? No. But with some patience and more time on the ice, he only saw 12 minutes of icetime between the last two games he played combined, the points most likely would have come. His demotion to the fourth line, and then Grand Rapids, wasn’t really warranted and was probably one of the worst personnel decisions of the year.
So Where Are the Points?

Unfortunately his superb shot and scoring chance generation at even strength and on the power play doesn’t show up on the box score. You can see the difference in the Wings’ powerplay as a whole but Mantha didn’t pick up a ton of individual points. He had a ton of "almosts" and hit a few posts during his 10 game stretch in Detroit but couldn’t seem to break through consistently.

Compare his season to Andreas Athanasiou, who drove the offense at a similar rate but had better luck finding the back of the net, and you’ll see just how well Mantha actually performed.

Data from War-On-Ice and Corsica.Hockey.

The difference between Mantha and Athanasiou really did boil down to luck. Had Mantha shot at Athanasiou’s 14.29% personal shooting percentage at 5v5 he would’ve had 2 more goals in 10 games. Instead Mantha’s luck at 5v5 left him with nothing to show for his efforts except a single assist. Additionally, Athanasiou’s defensive deficiencies were mostly covered up by superb goaltending whereas any defensive lapses on Mantha’s part seemed to result in goals against.

Going Forward

Whether Pavel Datsyuk leaves or stays, his play has declined over the past few years. Henrik Zetterberg’s production seems to have dropped off as well. Maximizing the effectiveness of the Red Wings' cost-controlled talent is going to be a focal point of next year. The Wings need to use their youth to replace these stars by committee because the "old guard" doesn’t seem to have much left in the tank. Players like Tomas Jurco, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Martin Frk, Teemu Pulkkinen, etc. will be called upon to play in increased roles no matter where Datsyuk plays or how healthy Zetterberg stays.

I’d love to see Mantha make the team out of camp so he can adjust to the NHL game. Let him adjust to the big leagues just like he had to when he made the jump from the QMJHL to the AHL. He’s shown the ability to drive the offense, let him develop the ability to finish like he had in Major Junior and began to display in the AHL this year. Give him the opportunity to play in the top-6 or, at the very least, on the 3rd line with regular powerplay time.

If the Red Wings want to ever finish the "reload" they've been in since 2011 the first step is to find out what each of these young players can do. We know that Larkin can play in the big leagues but the jury is still largely out when it comes to a lot of the young talent the Wings have. Mantha is a bit of an unknown quantity but we have many reasons to be optimistic about his development. Why not give him the chance to prove himself, 10 games (2 of which were on the fourth line) isn't much of a chance.