If you haven’t jumped on the Anthony Mantha bandwagon yet, you’re going to have to wait for the next rock star-style tour bus to arrive. We’re already standing to chest-to-back like it’s a college kegger on Welcome Week in this one.
Mantha, the Red Wings’ first-round pick last year (20th overall), showed some otherworldly potential right after he was drafted, but few expected him to be this good, this fast.
He just won the CHL Player of the Year award at age 19 after notching 81 goals in 81 games for some very French sounding team I can’t pronounce. He also added 77 assists.
Since 1975, there have been 17 players to win the CHL Player of the Year and average a goal per game or more:
- John Tavares
- Sidney Crosby
- Brad Richards
- Simon Gamache
- Alyn McCauley
- Pat Peake
- Eric Lindros
- Joe Sakic
- Rob Brown
- Luc Robitaille
- Dan Hodgson
- Mario Lemieux
- Pat LaFontaine
- Dale Hawerchuk
- Doug Wickenheiser
- Bobby Smith
- Peter Lee
Eleven of those players — Tavares, Crosby, Richards, Lindros, Sakic, Brown, Robitaille, Lemieux, LaFontaine, Hawercuk, Smith — played in at least one All-Star game, with the super majority playing in multiple.
Of the six that didn’t, two, Gamache and Hodgson, stood 5-foot-9. They were too small to play in the NHL. Mantha is 6-foot-4, 190 pounds. He won’t have that problem.
Another, Pat Peake, suffered a heel injury three years after leaving juniors, which eventually ended his career prematurely.
That leaves McCauley, Wickenheiser and Lee that can be classified as ‘busts.’ But none of three completely fizzled out.
McCauley played 10 unspectacular years in the NHL, mostly as a defensive forward. He never scored more than 20 goals in a season. Wickenheiser also played 10 years, and registered 55 points in a season once. Lee played 431 games in six years for the Pittsburgh Penguins before going to Europe.
But look at those three players a little closer.
Look at their age. Wickenheiser and Lee won CHL Player of the Year more than three decades ago (Wickenheiser in 1980, Lee in 1976). McCauly won CHL Player of year in 1997. Each one of their careers came in a era different from Mantha’s.
The 2004 NHL lockout marked a change. The league focused on opening up the game and adding scoring. It’s led to an era that falls somewhere between the free-wheeling 80s and the 90s dead puck era. A big player who can skate, a guy like Mantha, doesn’t have to deal with as much of the opposition clutching and grabbing. He has the space to get the train rolling. Because of that, a power forward can be more dominate than ever as long as he can keep up with the waterbugs.
No one has done what Mantha has done in this time period and become a bust. CHL Players of the Year typically fare well in the NHL anyway, unless they’re small. CHL Players of the Year who average a goal per game or more and aren’t small have a perfect success rate — 3-for-3 — in the past 15 years (Richards, Crosby, Tavares).
The typical protocol the Red Wings have in handling their prospects doesn’t exist for Mantha. He won’t have to roast in Grand Rapids for a couple years as the hype builds to completely unrealistic levels (Brendan Smith) or average a point per game in the AHL and then hope for an injury so that he can get a spot call up and prove he blongs (Gustav Nyquist).
Mantha will be Detroit soon, possibly next year.
“He’s going to get a chance to make our team,” general manager Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press this month. “He’ll play five or six or seven exhibition games, and if he belongs in the NHL, we’ll put him in.”
Hurry up. The bus will be here any minute.