Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha want to play for Jeff Blashill during the upcoming season.
As rookies in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Grand Rapids Griffins, both enjoyed learning under Blashill. And both felt he was more than deserving of the head coaching role with the Detroit Red Wings.
Now, Athanasiou and Mantha want to prove they’re worthy of their own promotion from the AHL and join their former coach in Detroit.
Both players are starting to make that case at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament this week.
“Both guys are smart players and they’re going to figure it out,” said new Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson, who is coaching Detroit’s prospects in Traverse City. “They both have great potential and they’re going to have long careers ahead of them.”
Athanasiou wants to prove to Detroit’s management team that he’s more than a speed skater with a hockey stick, while Mantha wants to prove his disappointing rookie year is behind him.
Detroit selected Mantha with the 20th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. And after scoring 120 points in his final season with the Val d’Or Foreurs, he had high expectations for his rookie season.
But, a broken leg in the 2014 Traverse City tournament derailed the start of his season. He missed the first month of the season and never found the consistency he was looking for as he struggled early on to adapt to the speed of the AHL.
“It took probably three weeks (after coming back from the injury) to get used to the play,” Mantha said. “I had to adapt pretty quickly. And that was tough.”
It also hurt Mantha’s confidence.
The high moments were great, but the low moments where devastating in a 33-point (15 goals, 18 assists) season.
“I need to stay in the middle, I know that now,” Mantha said. “I saw being at the top and being at the bottom. Now I know what I need to do. This is a fresh start and I need to impress as much as I can.”
He’s also working with a blueprint from Blashill.
Mantha and Blashill spoke often last season and the 20-year-old has taken those talks to heart, which included constant reminders to keep “consistent intensity” on every shift.
“He knows what I need to do and what I can do,” Mantha said. “I need to work on the little details. One-on-one battles, track back, forecheck — those kinds of things. We did a lot of video and I think it’s going to be positive for me this year.”
Athanasiou had a more positive experience in Grand Rapids last season, even after missing six weeks with a broken jaw midway through the season.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right winger instantly had the speed for the AHL. Then he started adding the intangibles on and off the ice that make the difference between junior and professional hockey.
“I learned a lot in Grand Rapids,” Athanasiou said. “They’re really good with the young guys … we had such a good group last year, so going to the rink every morning was fun.”
He’s felt the same atmosphere in Traverse City, where Red Wings prospects are essentially granted an extended training camp to impress Blashill and general manager Ken Holland. Once the prospects tournament ends, the rest of the Red Wings will arrive in Traverse City for NHL training camp later this week.
And once training camp begins, Athanasiou will need to show he’s matured from his rookie season.
“He has the speed and he has the shot,” Nelson said. “What’s left for him to do are those little things that come with maturity as he continues to improve as a 200-foot player.”
Athanasiou said he’s more than willing to prove he’s ready for the NHL.
“I just want to show them what I have,” Athanasiou said. “Show them my skill set, and see if I can help them in the NHL with the Red Wings. If they want that speed in the NHL, it would be incredible.”
Mantha has similar thoughts.
“I just want to play as many games with Detroit as I can,” Mantha said. “Whether it’s all the exhibition games. Or whether it’s 10, 20, 30, 40 (regular season) games, I just want to play as much as I can and play my game.”
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