We’re just a few hours out from a hugely important, potentially decisive Western Conference Finals Game 6, so right now is obviously the perfect time to talk about how dominant this one Detroit Red Wings kid has been over in Slovakia. Yes, for all those fans who don’t have a team left in the playoffs and have instead invested themselves in the IIHF World Championship, Anthony Mantha has been the star of the show for Team Canada. Mantha, the 24-year-old Red Wings forward who’s scored over 20 goals in each of the past two seasons, is tearing up the competition these last two weeks, scoring a tournament joint-highest seven goals in as many games, and dishing out five assists, too.
In Canada’s 3-0 win against the United States today that closed out the preliminary round, Mantha showed some heads-up, aggressive play on the game’s second goal. After closing down James van Riemsdyk and stealing the puck in his own defensive zone, Mantha kickstarted and then perfectly orchestrated a two-on-one break for Canada, doubling the Maple Boys’ lead with his pass to Kyle Turris.
The line of Turris, Jared McCann, and Mantha has been brilliant, providing more goals to Canada (12) than any other forward trio despite slotting in as the third line. For a Predator, a Penguin, and a Red Wing who have no obvious reason to mesh with each other so well, their chemistry can be astounding. For instance, take this telepathic goal against Slovakia:
Mantha did show another side of his game today—the part that can be physical to the point of stupidity—when he hit Colin White on the head and got 12 minutes worth of penalties for it. But overall, his Worlds have been much more beautiful than nasty. Whatever he does for the rest of the tournament, he’ll have a hard time topping the goal he scored against Germany on Saturday, when he hustled for an interception and then went between his legs to beat Niklas Treutle.
The softest of NHL trade rumors have Mantha potentially following Ken Holland to Edmonton this offseason, for the mooted price of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. More than likely, though, the rebuilding Wings plan to keep Mantha around as their second-line right winger (at least) over the next several years. His scoring has run hot and cold over the early part of his career, but in Slovakia, Mantha is building fabulously off a blistering end to his NHL season. The next big step for Mantha is to start contributing goals consistently. If or when he makes that leap, watch out.