Hockey

The Capitals ‘really wanted me,’ and that’s enough for Anthony Mantha

After getting drafted in 2013 and making his NHL debut in 2016, Mantha had been an ascending talent with the Red Wings, signing a four-year, $22.8 million extension this past offseason. He brought a new home in Detroit and had been remodeling the basement into his “man cave,” with the recent additions of a wine cellar, a pool table and a gym — and plans for a golf simulator.

Then, he and his girlfriend of two years, plus their dog, Millie, had to leave it all behind — for now.

“At first, when you don’t expect being traded, it hits you: leaving good friends behind,” said Mantha, 26, who called his parents to tell them about the trade before they saw it on the Internet. “[I was] set up in Detroit … housing-wise and everything. It is just different to be traded and then you walk into the hotel for a couple days and you are probably looking at a hotel room for the rest of the season. It’s just the small aspects behind the trade people sometimes really don’t really see.”

In an instant, Mantha went from being a talented if somewhat inconsistent piece of a rebuilding franchise to a valued part of a Stanley Cup contender. He didn’t appear to need long to adjust.

Mantha has a goal in each of his first four games with the Capitals, making him the first player in franchise history to accomplish that.

“He’s probably won the city over in the last week,” said Mike Knuble, one of Mantha’s coaches in the American Hockey League and a former player for Detroit and Washington. “Probably can’t even keep a Mantha jersey on the shelf. You got to be happy for him as a young player — what a start. … What a tear Anthony’s been on.”

Each goal validated what the Capitals thought they were getting in Mantha, who was a 20-plus-goal scorer in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Slotted in on the second line with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom, he brings more than just scoring ability. His skating is one of his most underappreciated skills. And Knuble said that even though Mantha isn’t known as a fighter, he has some “bite to him.”

“He’ll look guys in the eye and push them around a little bit,” Knuble said. “I always liked that about him.”

Grand Rapids Coach Ben Simon saw Mantha grow on and off the ice during his AHL time with the Griffins.

“By the time he figured it out, he hasn’t looked back,” Simon said. “I think Detroit did a great job at managing his expectations and the organization’s expectations from being a high-round pick. … He had his ups and downs and had his lumps, but not much got to him, which is a positive.”

Mantha has strong hockey bloodlines, with his dad and grandfather — four-time Stanley Cup winner André Pronovost — pushing him into hockey. He was a goal scorer from the start. But there was another sport that had his attention at a young age: tennis. When he was around 12, he had to choose.

“I just went with what I had the most fun, and that was hockey,” Mantha said with a laugh.

Though he rarely shows much emotion on the ice, Mantha is known by teammates and coaches as a fun-loving person.

“Some guys, when they don’t show too much emotion, you wonder if they are invested,” Simon said. “You wonder if they are involved. I don’t think that is the case with Anthony. I think that’s his personality, and it’s a benefit for him.”

Knuble added: “He was dealing with adversity in Detroit, people being on him about stuff. He kind of just believes in himself, and there is nothing wrong with that. Kind of steady and figure stuff out kind of at his own pace.”

The trade from Detroit wasn’t jolting only to Mantha; it was also a shock to the teammates he left behind.

“It hurt,” Detroit captain Dylan Larkin said. “It was hard. We’ve been together for a long time, and we have kind of grown up together and we still have a lot of growing up to do. He is one of my best friends in life.”

With his new team making a push toward the postseason, Mantha said his first goal settled his nerves and he’s eager to keep his momentum rolling. He is signed through the 2023-24 season at $5.7 million per year, so he figures he has time to create a new home.

“Washington came to get me so their expectations are probably high also like mine, so I will try to do my best this year,” he said. “It is just fun to think of the other side of the trade — that they really wanted me and now I’m here.”

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