The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and the Free Press’s Helene St. James spoke with Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and coach Jeff Blashill regarding a pair of topics…
First discussing the Wings’ hope that Mantha can emulate James van Riemsdyk’s net-front presence, as Kulfan noted…
Mantha (6-foot-5, 225) and van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3, 217) have the same body type – lanky and with a long reach – and with Mantha’s hand-eye coordination and knack with the puck, the potential is there to dominate around the net.
“He’s a good player in this league – I look at his game,” said Mantha, who has watched video with the coaching staff on JVR’s work. “Watch a lot of clips of him net-front, learn the details, and how to get into the right spot.”
Entering Saturday’s game, van Riemsdyk leads the Maple Leafs with 34 goals, while averaging 14:49 of ice time. Of the 34 goals, a team-leading 11 have come on the power play.
Over the last five games, van Riemsdyk had scored eight goals.
“James van Riemsdyk is a guy we’ve talked about with Anthony,” Blashill said. “JVR has as good a hands around the net for a big guy, and makes a lot of plays, makes their power play extremely dangerous. A lot of penalty kills want to leave the net-front guy to the goalie. He’s a tough guy to leave alone for a goalie because of how dangerous he is in that area.”
Kulfan continues, and the Free Press’s St. James both spoke of Mantha’s desire to emulate van Riemsdyk as well as the Wings’ decision to reunite #39 and #71:
Feeding Mantha the puck is on Dylan Larkin’s to-do list.
“He’s great around the net,” Larkin said. “He’s a shooter, so you have to give him the puck and that’s something we’ve been working on. We’ve been talking a lot — I have to get him more pucks so he can use that great shot he has.
“The more we play together, the better we will get. We haven’t played together much this year — we’ve been really good, and we’ve had nights were we struggled, so the more we talk and the more we communicate as we spend time together, we’ll know where we are and know what we need to do to be successful.”
Larkin, 21, started out his NHL career playing wing next to Henrik Zetterberg, but as the playoffs grew out of reach last season, Larkin moved to center, and showed he can run his own line. Mantha, 23, has played much of his young career with Zetterberg, but for nearly a month now the former first-round picks have been linemates for a reason.
“We’re trying to hopefully create some chemistry between the two of them,” Blashill said. “Dylan has improved his give-and-go game, his passing game has been really improved, and Anthony is a guy that can shoot it in the net. It’s two young guys that we’d like to see over the next number of years become elite players, so we might as well play them together and try to create that good chemistry between the two of them.”
The two relish the opportunity to play with one another. In Larkin, Mantha has a center with blazing speed, one who loves to skate with the puck.
“You need to try to be in the right spot and open up and he can feed you pretty good,” Mantha said. “I enjoy playing with Dylan. I love the way he plays. It could be really good for the near future.”
St. James also continues, and she posted a lengthy video of van Riemsdyk, Mike Babcock, Mantha, Blashill and Larkin speaking with the media:
“James van Riemsdyk is a guy we’ve talked to Anthony lots about,” Blashill said. “I think JVR’s got as good hands around the net for a big guy and makes lots of plays, makes their power play extraordinarily dangerous.
“Lots of penalty kills want to leave the net-front guy to the goalie. He’s a tough guy to leave alone with the goalie because of how dangerous he is in those areas. I think over the years if you look at JVR’s production, it’s been excellent, and it’s been noted lately without lots of minutes.”
There’s the other lesson the Wings seek to emphasize when paralleling Van Riemsdyk to Mantha – how he maximizes his productivity to ice time ratio. Skating 14:49 per game, Van Riemsdyk is the first NHLer since the 2005-06 season to pot 30 goals while playing less than 15 minutes a night.
Mantha has played much more, averaging 17:16 per game.
“That’s what net front does,” Blashill said. “If you can get great at the net front you can score lots of – I don’t want to say easy goals – but that’s where the goals come from. So I think it’s a guy that certainly Mantha can learn from.
“I think one of the big things is he’s scored lots of goals standing in front of the goalie, and I think when you learn to embrace that as a player – I don’t think it was a natural thing for him – they’ve got guy in van Riemsdyk who consistently scores around 30 because he’s real good in front of the net.
“I think Anthony is hopefully seeing that, just by being in front of the net you can increase your goal totals a ton, so I think it’s a good reinforcement of what that net presence and that spot on the power play means.”