Less than 48 hours ago, Anthony Mantha was in the middle of his pre-game nap, part of his routine to prepare for Detroit’s showdown with the Carolina Hurricanes. His phone went off, but he slept through the call. Soon after, he woke up to a text from general manager Steve Yzerman.
Call me ASAP.
“We had a quick phone call when I woke up,” Mantha recalled. “He just told me I got traded, best of luck and thank you for everything I did in Detroit.”
The hours that followed would go by in a flash for the 26-year-old, who was experiencing the first trade of his young career. He drove down to PNC Arena to say goodbye to his longtime teammates before puck drop and grab his gear. After that, he got hold of a car service and travelled up I-95, got dinner on the go and finally settled in at a hotel before waking up the next morning and heading to Medstar Capitals Iceplex for Washington’s morning skate.
Slotting in on the second line alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, Mantha said he was looking forward to playing alongside “two great players,” while adding to their duo and adding a spark to the top-6.
“I think I can bring a lot of offense over here,” Mantha said. “The style of play the Caps play will fit just in [with my game]. I’m excited. I’m a big body, I can shoot a lot of pucks and I can try to make great plays.”
As Mantha took the ice at Capital One Arena for Tuesday’s tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers, many were looking forward to seeing what the 6-foot-5, 234-pound winger could bring to the table in place of longtime forward and fan favorite Jakub Vrana.
He didn’t disappoint.
Just 11:32 into the opening frame, Mantha registered the secondary assist on Tom Wilson’s power-play goal to put the Capitals up 2-1. Alex Ovechkin was the one to collect the puck from his first point and deliver it to the trainers.
“It was huge personally [to get on the board], just to get my focus back and slow things down for me a little bit and just play my game,” Mantha said.
Mantha carried the momentum over into the second period, as he took advantage of an odd-man rush and strong passing play for a strong scoring chance. Putting his patience and skill on display, Mantha faked and then fired a dart top shelf to add to Washington’s lead with his 12th goal of the season.
“I just tried shooting it as hard as I could,” Mantha explained.
In just 14:59 TOI, the Quebec native racked up a goal, an assist and a team-leading six shots to help the Caps secure a dominant 6-1 victory over Philadelphia.
“I thought he was in the mix of the play all night.... I thought he had great chemistry with his linemates,” head coach Peter Laviolette said, adding, “Coming in here the way he did and meeting everybody for the first time can be challenging. You never know what’s going to happen and I thought he played a good game.”
Mantha’s performance earned him second-star honors as he became more acclimated with his linemates and the team’s systems.
“Obviously it’s a different style of play right now here than it was in Detroit. I’m gonna have to get used to it,” Mantha said. “They love to carry the puck and make plays, and I’m all in for that. hopefully it’s going to go uphill from here and become easier and easier.”
Nick Jensen, who played in Detroit with Mantha, was also impressed with Mantha’s Washington debut.
“I’ve played with him a long time. He’s got, like, the complete package going on. Big, strong, fast, you saw it tonight, he’s got a great shot... he’s got a lot of skill, too,” Jensen said. “Most people think big, strong, it’s more of a physical game but you can’t underestimate the amount of skill he has.”
Despite being a “chill person,” Mantha is no stranger to expectations and understands the “pressure” associated with being acquired by a Cup contender.
“Obviously when a team comes to get you you want to do the best you can,” Mantha said. “I think [Tuesday’s win] was just a step forward for myself and kind of calmed the nerves a little bit. Have a good first game and then just try and build confidence for the following games.”
After six years in Detroit, Mantha admits it was difficult to leave behind the good friends and life he built in Motor City, but his attention has now shifted to D.C.
The Caps have just 13 regular-season games remaining and currently maintain sole possession of first place in the East Division. If all goes well, Mantha will make his NHL postseason debut in May and has his sites set on making his presence known.
“It’s hard to leave a team like [the Red Wings]. I’ve had great memories, from draft day to my last game. It’s going to be memories that are going to live on... from now on, I’m a Caps player, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead,” Mantha said.