It's been a while since the Quebec League dominated draft conversations, but the 2013 draft class is shaping up to be different. The Halifax Mooseheads come in with potential No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon, sniper Jonathan Drouin and goalie Zach Fucale, while the Quebec Remparts counter with Anthony Duclair and Adam Erne.
But if you want to look way up the draft board in a different sense, check out Val-d’Or Foreurs left winger Anthony Mantha and Rimouski Oceanic defenseman Samuel Morin. Both players come in with size and are athletic - I personally saw Mantha dunk on a regulation basketball hoop recently, giving himself an alley-oop by tossing the ball off the backboard as he leapt in the air.
Mantha is 6-foot-3 and put up 22 goals and 51 points in 63 games for the Foreurs last season, ranking him fourth on the team despite his rookie status. He capped off his campaign by helping Canada win bronze at the World Under-18 Championship and is eager to build from where he left off.
“I think it will be the same responsibilities I had last year after Christmas,” Mantha said. “Bring some offense, get power play time and contribute defensively to the team.”
Born and raised in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, Mantha is far from home in northern mining country, but he said he loves Val-d'Or and his billets in particular. But no matter how nice his new home is there are still some brutal bus rides and the big teen has developed a standard coping mechanism.
“I take Gravol because I get car sick,” he laughed. “So I sleep the whole way.”
Mantha still wants to work on his explosiveness, but knows that right now his strengths lie in his puck skills.
“Bringing the puck to the net and my vision, passing the puck around,” he said. “I know where the guys are going on the ice, so I can read the play a fraction of the play faster.”
Mantha had a great chance to hone that skill in Los Angeles, where he and Morin both took part in a prospect camp put on by their agency, CAA Hockey (the same firm that represents Sidney Crosby, the Sedins and Evgeni Malkin). But since the on-ice drills were competitive but friendly, Morin used his 6-foot-5 frame and stick to defend more than he would when playing back in the 'Q' with Rimouski.
“I'm more of a defensive defenseman,” Morin said. “I like to play physical, dish out some cross checks or slashes; that's my game. I need to improve on my offensive play.”
With the Oceanic, he had a great tutor in Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, a 2010 Buffalo Sabres pick (68th overall) who put up monster numbers from the Rimouski blueline last year.
“He always shows me tricks, how to get off a quick shot,” Morin said. “We had a few offensive defensemen on the power play who are good to watch.”
While Mantha got the nod at the under-18s, Morin was still in the playoffs at the time with Rimouski, but the big blueliner is up for a spot on Canada's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament team in August.
The competition will be fierce, but the Oceanic kid is happy to be in the mix.
“It's very cool to be among the best 12 defensemen in Canada,” he said. “I'm very proud.”
Both Mantha and Morin acknowledge that while their size is a long-term advantage, as teens they have had to learn how to grow into their big frames, sometimes at an accelerated pace. This is commonplace with lanky hockey players, but when the end result is a Tyler Myers or Zdeno Chara, it all becomes worth it.
“This year I gained 20 pounds, so that was very good,” Morin said. “I worked on this – I have to put on more muscle, stay in the gym.”
As both players continue to grow, don't be surprised to eventually see them high on the draft board, too.
THN.com's Prospect Watch focuses on up-and-comers from the AHL, Europe, major junior, the NCAA and even minor hockey destined to become big names in the NHL.
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