Anthony Mantha can pinpoint the moment when all the parts finally fell into sync.
With most draft hopefuls, their maturation is inevitably described as a process. In Mantha's case, the Val-d'Or Foreurs left wing who leads the QMJHL with 40 goals and is sixth in the scoring race with 72 points traces his breakout to Dec. 11, 2011. That night, he scored the deciding goal against the Quebec Remparts in front of a 13,000-strong crowd at Colisée Pepsi.
"I think it was my game in Quebec last year, a little bit before Christmas," the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Mantha says. "I got the overtime goal and it just started off from there, my confidence."
Suffice to say, Mantha, whose paternal grandfather André Pronovost played left wing on four Stanley Cup champion teams with the Montreal Canadiens from 1957-60, has taken full advantage of just missing the birthday cutoff for last season's draft. He had only three goals in the first half of his age-17 season, but blossomed with 40 points in the final 27 games of 2011-12. Now three-goal nights have become nearly routine for the lanky Longueuil, Que., native, who has had five hat tricks.
Mantha's combination of skill and next-level size has simply been too much for junior-level defencemen by times; the test will be figuring out how that will translate to the pro game. He acknowledges that he needs to improve at using his frame in tight quarters to help win battles and protect the puck. That would seem to be the distinct difference between Mantha this season and another QMJHL power forward with a late birthday, former Drummondville Voltigeurs star Sean Couturier, who went No. 8 overall in 2011 and went directly to the Philadelphia Flyers. That said, Mantha has potential to be a first-rounder or early second this summer.
Mantha credits his grandfather for getting him started in the sport. Pronovost played 556 NHL games spread across 10 seasons between 1956 and '68.
"He knew what he was doing when I was young," Mantha, who uses his mother's surname, says of his granddad. "He taught me how to skate, how to play hockey, how to have fun. He had a huge impact on me. He helped me all the way up, even now, he gives me tips on what to do on the ice."
That family tie might be overlooked sometimes; Anthony Mantha says he occasionally asked if he is related to 1980s NHL defenceman Moe Mantha.
"I get asked that a lot," he says. "No, no relation."
1. You were born one day too late to be eligible for last season's draft; is being older than most other draft prospects an advantage?
"For sure, it's an advantage. I should be stronger and taller than some of the other players. I've had a year more to concentrate on my hockey sense and get better and better."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"My one-on-one battles. Especially, I need to work a lot on those. I'm working on it every day in practice any time I can work on it. I need to concentrate and put all of my 200 pounds into battle."
3. You have to play your own game, but whom in the NHL do you watch because his game is a model for what you're trying to become?
"I am a Montreal fan but I also watch the Pittsburgh Penguins because not only do they have guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they also have had guys like Jordan Staal [who is now with the Carolina Hurricanes]. For the more defensive part of the game, I like watching him but he also has hands and can score goals.."
4. As a Montreal-area kid, how do you answer the question when you get asked about being drafted by the Habs?
"Anywhere I get drafted will be a honour but for sure, all my friends from Montreal would like me to be in my hometown."
5. Where is your favourite road rink in the QMJHL?
"It's Quebec, definitely. I have great games over in Quebec. They have big crowds, too.."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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