Anthony Mantha ready to fight to ‘earn the jersey’

DETROIT >> Last year at this time, Anthony Mantha had a realistic shot at making the Wings’ roster out of training camp.

This year it appears he’ll be a longshot to do so.

“Realistically, I think it’s going to be a struggle for him to make the team,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “I use the word “earn the jersey.” You’ve got to come in and take a job.

“We probably got 14, 15, 16 forwards we think can legitimately fight for a spot on the team,” Holland continued. “I’m not even sure if Anthony is in that group.”

His attempt to make the Wings out of camp was slowed considerably after getting his skate caught in a rut and suffering a fractured right tibia during a rookie tournament game in Traverse City.

That sidelined him all of training camp, where he was slated to get some time on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

Mantha, who was taken by the Wings 20th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, struggled in his first season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring 15 goals and to go with 18 assists in 62 games.

This came on the heels of scoring 57 goals and 63 assists in 57 games for Val d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was also named the CHL’s Player of the Year.

At the Wings’ annual development camp in Traverse City, which began Friday, Mantha gets a chance to re-establish himself as a player that’s close to making an NHL roster.

“I’m here a little bit more confident than last season,” Mantha said. “I need to keep showing stuff to the organization in this camp and I need to come in September and be ready for a fresh new start. My goal is the same, to play in the NHL, so I need to come here and be ready and have a better season for sure.

“It was difficult, especially right off the bat like that after coming off a great season,” Mantha continued. “It’s a fresh start right now and I hope it’s going to go upward from here on.”

His lack of offensive production didn’t go unnoticed and Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano made it known saying the organization was “very, very, very disappointed” in Mantha’s performance.

“I didn’t really listen to his comments,” Mantha said. “We were in playoffs. I talked to (Jeff Blashill) a little bit and he just told me to keep playing my way. So we tried to just keep that aside.”

Then reports surfaced as Detroit prepared for the draft and free agency that Mantha was no longer untouchable and could be available in a trade if the right offer came along.

“As for the trade rumors, if they wanted to trade me, they would have and if not, I’m still here and my goal is still the same,” Mantha said. “I want to play for Detroit.

“It’s part of adversity,” Mantha added. “You need to build through it and come out stronger. I was telling myself, I had the rest of the playoffs to show them wrong and I tried building off of that. I had a few good games, a few bad games in playoffs but that’s part of hockey.”

But Mantha struggled in the playoffs as well, scoring just two goals to go with two assists in 16 games.

And know he finds himself in the second tier of players like Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Nosek to make the Wings out of camp.

“We think they are going to be Red Wings,” Holland said. “Are they going to be Red Wings in September? They got to come in and knock somebody out of a job.”

The Wings have 11 forwards under contract for next season and four more restricted free agents to sign before camp opens.

Mantha also has fallen behind Dylan Larkin on the depth chart.

“It always has been,” Mantha said when asked if his expectation this year will be to make the Wings’ roster out of camp. “I won’t lie. This is the same this year. I need to come here and maybe try playing a few exhibition games. I’ve only had one in two camps so far so I obviously aim for quite a few exhibition games this year and build off of that and try to make the lineup for sure.”

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