When the Washington Capitals acquired Anthony Mantha from the Detroit Red Wings in April 2021, they thought they were getting a talented playmaker who would fully blossom into a star without having to be The Man in DC.
“He’s the main guy (with Detroit) and there’s probably a little pressure on him to produce,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said after the trade happened. “I think he comes here and he’s just got to fit in. He’s going to have a veteran group of players. I think he’s going to learn from those veterans. I think we have a good leadership group of older guys that have been around. We have a lot of guys that have won a Cup. So I think it’s up to him to fit in, play well, relax, and compete and I think everything will work out.”
Except, everything hasn’t worked out. In three seasons with the Caps, Mantha has scored only 24 goals and 58 points in 118 games, struggling through injury and major bouts of inconsistency. Mantha hit his low point in 2022-23 when Peter Laviolette healthy-scratched him multiple times. MacLellan even looked to deal Mantha over the summer, but could find no takers.
Now, Mantha is doing everything he can to become the player he once was as he enters the final season of a four-year, $22.8 million contract.
“[The Capitals] came to get me two and a half years ago already and I feel like I haven’t been the player they wanted so far,” Mantha said Saturday after the team’s third on-ice Training Camp session. “So that’s my goal this year, to prove to them that that player’s here (now) and he’s ready to play.”
Mantha’s best season came in 2018-19 where he scored a career high 25 goals an 48 points in 67 games for the Red Wings. The forward attributed part of that success to a trimmed-up body, which he’s feverishly tried to regain over the summer.
“My goal was to lose weight over the summer, just to try and be quicker on the ice,” Mantha said. “I focus on that a lot and I think it gave some good results so far, so I’m excited to see it in a game.”
Mantha played last season at 242 pounds which was heavier than what the Caps had Alex Ovechkin listed on their roster (238 pounds). The winger recorded the worst full season of his career production-wise, putting up just 27 points in 67 games. Now he’s hoping the added speed and more tuned-up body will allow him to be more evasive and have stronger legs at the end of shifts.
“I feel like I’m explosive,” Mantha said. “Just getting out of the sharp turn and then finding the opening, I think that’s the biggest difference that I can notice right now. I mean, it’s only practices and a little bit of in-tight situation.
“Over my career, I’ve played different levels of weight, and I think 230 was my best, 230, 232 was my best year,” Mantha said. “So I wanted to get back there.”
Mantha said he grinded through the offseason and turned to methods of exercise he previously didn’t do to re-find his lost mojo.
“I’m not much of a runner,” Mantha said. “I went for a couple extra runs over the summer, a lot of ice, and a lot of workouts. So that, with nutritionists and vitamins and all of it. So it’s a full kit.”
Mantha says he’s currently at 236 pounds and will probably be at 233 or 234 pounds by the end of Training Camp in two weeks.
“I wanted to get as close to 30s as possible,” Mantha said. “For my body type, it’s not that easy. Some people just lose weight easily, but that was my goal, and I’m not too far from there right now.”
Mantha also continued to speak to a “mental coach” that he hired after being scratched by Peter Laviolette to try and restore his lost confidence.
“I did work with him all summer,” Mantha said. “I would say three calls a month. Zoom calls, everything’s on Zoom these days. But no, it’s been really good. Mentally ready and physically ready also.”
The Capitals traded away popular 2018 Stanley Cup champion forward, Jakub Vrana, along with Richard Panik and two high draft picks to Detroit for Mantha. Vrana appeared to struggle under the leadership and discipline style of Peter Laviolette — the same of which could be said for Mantha. Mantha noted that he is already feeling the culture change under new head coach Spencer Carbery.
“He’s super positive,” Mantha said. “That’s the fun part of it. The guys are excited to be here, the new coaching staff also, and it just brings a good energy around the rink.
“He has a whole system in place and we’re just trying to adjust to it right now,” Mantha said. “The practices are more of how we’re going to play it and I think it’s going to be a high pace, a good thing for our team.”
Mantha started Training Camp skating with the two greatest players in Capitals history, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, on the first line of Group A. Now he will likely make his preseason debut against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, skating with young players Sonny Milano and Hendrix Lapierre.
Here's #Caps training camp Group A today:
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) September 23, 2023
“We’re excited to get it going in the game,” Mantha said.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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