Val-d'Or's Mantha has brain and brawn for hockey
Thursday, 12.06.2012 / 1:15 PM
By Arpon Basu
Take one look at Anthony Mantha on the ice, and you won't need to be a seasoned hockey scout to immediately see that the hulking left wing for the Val-d'Or Foreurs has everything a young player needs to one day reach his goal of playing in the NHL.
At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Mantha's high-end skill and skating ability will jump out to even the most casual fan, particularly when he's producing at the prolific rates that have had him among the top 10 scorers in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League practically the entire season.
But his coach in Val-d'Or, Mario Durocher, said it is a side of Mantha that fans and even most scouts don't get to see that has him most impressed.
"He's a very intelligent kid. It's great talking hockey with him," Durocher told NHL.com. "He's always asking the right questions in practice and even pointing things out that we might have missed sometimes."
That innate sense for the game has been passed down to Mantha along family lines. His grandfather is Andre Pronovost, a forward who played 556 games for four NHL teams between 1956 and 1967, winning the Stanley Cup in each of his first four full professional seasons with the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950s.
Mantha has been tutored in the game by his grandfather since a young age, and he said the message has been consistent from Day 1.
"He gives me a lot of advice, but it's mainly to remind me to work hard every game, every shift, and that's what will bring me success," Mantha told NHL.com. "It's not complicated. It applied when he played and it still applies today. As soon as you stop working, you stop going forward. So you have to keep working."
Mantha, who is third in the league with 25 goals and sixth with 45 points, is sixth among QMJHL skaters in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings of the top players for the 2013 NHL Draft.
"He's a big kid with a lot of skill," NHL Central Scouting Chris Bordeleau said. "He has everything you need to succeed -- he can skate, he's smart, he reads the play, he has everything. But if there's one negative, he sometimes has a tendency to take the easy way out. … He might need to work on his defensive game, but he can be taught that. You can't teach talent like he has, or hands like he has."
Durocher said the defensive side of Mantha's game is exactly what he and his staff in Val-d'Or have been focusing on in attempting to get him prepared to make the jump to the next level.
"He has offensive talent, that's undeniable," Durocher said. "But we're trying to get him to use his body more, to protect the puck a little better and to limit his turnovers. It reminds me a bit of Sean Couturier, who was a purely offensive player when he entered the league but he learned to play a sound defensive game by the time he left. Mantha has to do the same thing.
"But as far as his offensive game, he has it all. He can change a game by himself."
Mantha has done plenty of game-changing this season, leading the Foreurs in goals, points, power-play goals (seven) and shots on goal (129) in 29 games, showing that the early accolades and the extra attention from scouts in his draft year have done nothing to make him lose his focus.
"It had an influence on me for sure, being among the top players, but I took it as a positive and didn't put any more pressure on myself because of it," Mantha said of his spot in the draft rankings. "I told myself I just had to keep playing the way I know how to play, and at the end of the year things will take care of themselves.
"It's true that there are more people who want to talk to you and things like that, but I'm really not feeling any more pressure because of it. It's out of my hands, other than to play the way I can."
While Mantha's play has been extraordinary, the scary thing is the best very well may be yet to come.
As a rookie last season with Val-d'Or, Mantha got off to a slow start with three goals, eight assists, a minus-10 rating and 21 shots on goal in 36 games prior to the Christmas break. Coming out of the break, Mantha caught fire with 19 goals, 21 assists, a minus-1 rating and 57 shots on goal in 27 games, and he added two goals and two assists in four playoff games.
"Last year he really took off after Christmas and in the playoffs, when the game gets tighter and tougher," said Durocher, who coached the Chicoutimi Sagueneens last season. "So that's what I'm eager to see, if he can raise his game again when things get more difficult after Christmas.
"And I think that's what the scouts want to see as well."
Thus far, Mantha has given those scouts plenty to look at, and if he is able to repeat what he did in the New Year last season, he may find his draft stock soaring to new levels.