When you’re hot, you’re hot. And Sunday night in Detroit, as the Red Wings skated out in front of their hometown faithful to square off against the Dallas Stars, Anthony Mantha couldn’t have been much hotter.
On a night that featured an early deficit, a third-period lead change and a literal last-minute winner for Detroit, Mantha was all over the scoresheet. The first Red Wings tally? Mantha. The second? Mantha. The third? Mantha. And the fourth, which stood as the game-deciding goal and was notched with 53 seconds left on the clock? That was Mantha, too, as he became the first Red Wing to score four goals in the franchise’s home opener since John Sorrell had a four-goal outing against the New York Americans in November 1933.
Given Mantha’s output, the tongue-in-cheek thing to do right about now would be to quip about how he’s on pace for 205 goals or joke about him breaking Wayne Gretzky’s single-season scoring record. After all, his four-goal game combined with his one-goal, three-point season-opening performance puts him on pace for 287 points, which would put 'The Great One' to shame. But what we should really be taking a moment to do on the heels of Mantha’s spectacular outing is recognize that with three full campaigns under his belt and an important season ahead of him, the 25-year-old Red Wings winger truly looks as though he’s ready to take the next step.
Of course, Sunday’s contest helped highlight what Mantha can do at his best. With a frame likes his – he stands 6-foot-5, 234 pounds – and the offensive gifts he possesses, he can score highlight-reel markers like the outside drive-to-quick cutback he tucked home for his second of the night. But he also has the shot and the nose for the net that is the mark of a high-caliber goal scorer. Both were on display Sunday, as well. Two of his goals, his first and the winner, were one-timed blasts that found twine. His hat trick came on a loose puck he tapped home off of a rebound, but it only came because Mantha worked his way to a prime position at the front of the net.
It’s not just because Mantha went out and had a remarkable four-goal night that he’s worth talking about as a breakout candidate, however. No, this is something that we started to see signs of last season and even the season before that. With each campaign, Mantha's offensive growth has been apparent and his base numbers are enough to indicate that he's one to watch. In each of his three full campaigns prior to 2019-20, Mantha has seen an increase in his goals per game rate and his points per game rate, which remained an even .60 across his rookie and sophomore campaigns, saw a rise to .72 in his injury-shortened 2018-19 season. Extrapolated across a full season, he's fresh off of campaign in which he scored at a 30-goal, 60-point clip.
But it’s also worth noting his production rates at five-a-side. Since his first full season in 2016-17, Mantha has consistently made the most of his opportunities. Across the past three seasons, he has skated nearly 3,000 minutes at 5-on-5, scoring at a rate of .74 goals and 1.87 points per 60 minutes. To give those numbers some context, his goal rate is right up there with the likes of Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel and Aleksander Barkov. His points rate puts him in the same company as Tyler Seguin, Patrik Laine and Teuvo Teravainen. Those are players with either 40-goal potential, 80-point upside or both. That Mantha has produced at similar rates is promising, to say the least.
If that is the case, though, then why is now the right time to predict the Mantha breakout? Why didn’t it happen last season and what’s changed to give us any indication he’ll go from consistent contributor to real game-in, game-out threat? Truth be told, it comes down to one thing: a steady dose of ice time. And if we’re to draw one early conclusion from the two games the Red Wings have played thus far, it’s that Mantha, along with linemates Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, are going to get a boatload of opportunity this season. In the past two seasons, Mantha has averaged roughly 17:30 per game across 147 outings. And while, yes, it’s only two games, Mantha is averaging nearly 20:30 already and exceeded 21 minutes in the season-opener against the Nashville Predators. Coach Jeff Blashill is using Mantha and using him often, and the more opportunity he receives, the higher his numbers stand to rise.
If there is any drawback for the Red Wings, it’s that Mantha is in position to have his breakout season right as he heads towards restricted free agency, because isn’t that always the case? But from Detroit’s standpoint, a career year that leads to a big payday for Mantha can be chalked as one of those so-called good problems to have. Following Larkin’s emergence last season, it was time for another Red Wing to graduate into the top-tier producer category, and if Mantha can step into the spotlight this season, Detroit will have its offensive foundation in place as they wait patiently for their up-and-comers to arrive.
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