By: Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

Rookies Anthony Mantha and Ryan Sproul were forced into the Red Wings lineup out of necessity.

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Is it any surprise that both of them are holding their own?

Playing together as Red Wings for the first time on Tuesday night, Mantha and Sproul combined for a goal and two assists and keyed a third-period rally in Detroit’s 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lighting.

They also logged significant minutes on the power play and helped the Wings snap out of a 3-for-42 slide on the man advantage.

The 22-year-old Mantha was called up from AHL Grand Rapids last Friday in the wake of an injury to Andreas Athansiou, while the 23-year-old Sproul was plugged into the lineup on Tuesday night for the resting Niklas Kronwall.

Luke Glendening, another player who came up through the Wings’ minor-league system, sees some of himself in Mantha and Sproul – with one exception.

I wasn’t getting points my first year, I barely get points now,” Glendening laughed, “but good for them. They’re playing well when they get their opportunity. They’re seasoned down there and they’re ready to play when they get here – everyone.

“Doubles (Athansiou) was great before he got injured, I thought Bert (Tyler Bertuzzi) looked good in the games he played in. Guys who come up are ready to play and they’re going to have to keep pushing.”

Sproul was paired with blue-liner Brendan Smith against the Lightning and logged 19:08 of ice time, third most among Wings’ defensemen. He was strong in his own zone and helped tilt the ice in Detroit’s favor, as evidenced by his plus-three rating in five-on-five Corsi.

It also bears mention that Sproul started just two of his 12 five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone, so he wasn’t exactly being deployed in sheltered situations. He tallied a goal and an assist nevertheless.

“I felt good, but it’s not just about the points,” he said. “It’s about the overall game as well, and I felt good in that sense, too.”

With the Wings trailing 3-1 in the third, Sproul got the comeback started on the power player when he snapped a shot through the legs of Ben Bishop from the right face-off dot. It was the first goal of his NHL career.

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“It feels good for myself I think, points wise. But we want to win all the time so it’s kind of disappointing still,” Sproul said.

Sproul is known for his shot, and the rookie isn’t afraid to let it rip when he gets the chance.

“He can really shoot it and it’s one of those shots that creates chaos because you don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s so hard and so when it hits people it doesn’t just fall down, it goes lots of places,” said coach Jeff Blashill. “He’s had a real good shoot-first mentality. I thought he handled himself pretty well tonight.”

The same could be said of Mantha.

Though his underlying stats weren’t as strong, the 6’5 forward proved his worth in the offensive zone, particularly around the net. That was most evident when Mantha jumped on the rebound of a Sproul one-timer and flung a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Henrik Zetterberg, who buried the puck into an empty net to tie the score at three.

“It was nice, it was a nice play,” Zetterberg said. “He battles in front and he knew I was standing by myself there, so a very nice play.”

Blashill agreed, noting that he liked Mantha’s presence on the power play.

“It was good. He’s a big body, he’s got those kind of hands around the net, so a real good play by him. I thought Anthony played pretty well,” Blashill said.

Zetterberg heaped praise on Sproul and Mantha during an otherwise reticent postgame interview session.

Of Sproul, the Wings’ captain said, “He’s good, he plays well. He’s fast, he makes nice plays, he’s physical.”

Of Mantha, he said, “He’s a good player. He’s done great things down in Grand Rapids. He’s good in front of the net there, good hands, he can do it all.”

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And for one night, at least, the Wings reaped the rewards of having both youngsters in the lineup. But with Kronwall returning to the lineup on Thursday and forward Thomas Vanek due back as soon as Sunday, time will only tell if that continues.