I’ve been driving the Anthony Mantha hype train for quite some time. Mantha, a two-time 50 goal scorer for Val-d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, led his team to the President’s Cup totaling 24+14 in 24 playoff games. In 2013-14, Mantha scored 81 goals and 77 assists in 81 games. Does that have your attention? How about 127 penalty minutes as well? Sure, those are facts Viz, but why the hell should I care about what Mantha did three years ago in juniors? Why hasn’t he established himself as an elite scorer in the NHL yet? Why is he a sleeper for fantasy hockey next season? Well, voice inside my head, I’m about to answer those questions for you.
The first two questions can be answered fairly quickly. Detroit had a history under Mike Babcock of slow cooking all of their prospects by having them play multiple seasons in the minors or college before making the NHL roster. Not much has changed under Jeff Blashill; the only exception was Dylan Larkin who has fallen off a cliff. Mantha played the season above and almost two full seasons in the AHL before he even had a sniff of Detroit. It isn’t a knock on Mantha that he’ll be 23 years old when next season starts and he’s only played 70 games at the NHL level; it simply was and still is the Detroit way.
So why is he a sleeper for next season? There’s quite a few reasons why I’m still driving the bandwagon. First off, Mantha’s offensive ability is off the charts. I talked about on the first podcast we ever did, a season preview for the Atlantic Division, that Mantha has the ability to be a perennial 30 goal scorer who can get to 40 goals when things break right. He also maintained his aggression and rough side in the NHL posting 53 PIM this season in 60 games. Now we’re looking at someone who has 30 goal and 70 PIM potential. Why could that happen this season already? I’ll tell you how!
Similarly to Bo Horvat, who I talked about in this sleeper post, Mantha has untapped potential on the power play. For Mantha, it’s even more so than Horvat. Mantha scored only one goal and added two assists in sixty games on the power play. There’s simply no chance of that being repeated. In fact, I’d be surprised if he’s not pushing 20 points there, but regardless the floor is probably around 13 points, a 10 point upgrade.
His time on ice is also going to increase. Mantha only averaged 15:54 of ice time in his rookie season. Before he hit the rookie wall, Mantha has upped his ice time to the high teens and sometimes over 20 minutes. I think he maintains a role in the 18 minute range next season which also raises his floor.
The main thing that went under the radar this season was how effective the first line was with Mantha on it. Despite being a horrible team, Detroit’s first line was outstanding this year. Mantha’s Corsi For percentage this season was 54.4% and his Corsi Relative was 7.3. In other words, Mantha dominated the puck when he was on the ice and his line was far superior to all of the others on Detroit. This supports my claim that his minutes will increase and shows that the boost in playing time will create additional opportunity.
To summarize, we’re looking at an elite offensive talent who finally received a chance at the NHL level. His play as a rookie earned him a bigger role on the power play next season and increased minutes at even strength. Mantha dominated the puck like very few rookies do and while his team was poor, he still finished +10 due to an amazing job with Henrik Zetterberg and either Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyqvist. Do we see that full breakout? There’s no guarantee but improvement is almost certain. I’ll say Mantha has a floor of 25 goals, 30 assists and 50 PIM with plenty of upside from there.