One of the major focal points heading into Maple Leaf training camp is 2015 4th overall draft pick Mitch Marner. Everyone, including fans, media and Maple staff are asking questions as to whether he will be ready to compete for an NHL job with the Maple Leafs. As the CHL-NHL agreement will not allow him to play in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies next season, although it would be incredibly ideal and beneficial, there are numerous question marks surrounding the ultra talented prospect. Marner will be a London Knight or a Toronto Maple Leaf next year, but there could be a possibility that he will spend time in both cities in 2016-2017. The league allows teams to play a prospect for 9 games without burning a year off of his entry level contract, as long as Marner doesn’t have a horrid training camp, which history suggests there is no reason why he would, the Maple Leafs would take advantage of the 9 games in using it as an audition. There are a number of options the Leafs can explore with one of their prized possessions. They have the ability to send Marner back to junior, meaning he will lead his London Knights squad and most likely compete for a World Junior Championship with Canada in December. The WJC takes place in Toronto-Montreal this upcoming December and will have massive media attention, keeping track of Marners every move. Another option for the Leafs is to have Marner play out his 9 games and beyond, meaning staying with the Leafs and burning a year off his ELC then loaning him to the Canadian WJ team and have him compete for a gold medal on a massive stage, like Ottawa did with Curtis Lazar a couple years ago. Another path, which I think is the most probable, is Toronto simply keeping Marner for the full year.
In my view, if Marner makes the team in early October, the Maple Leafs should explore the option of keeping him and playing him until December, sending him to the World Juniors and bringing him back once the tournament has completed. Here are the reasons why:
CHL Memorial Cup Champion
Co-Captain of London Knights
Stafford Smythe Trophy (CHL Memorial Cup Most Valuable Player award)
CHL Player of the Year
J. Ross Robertson Cup (OHL Cup – Team Championship)
Red Tilson Trophy (OHL Most Outstanding Player)
OHL Playoffs most assist (Mitch had 28 Assists)
OHL playoffs most points (Mitch had 44 playoff points)
Wayne Gretzky 99 Award (OHL playoffs MVP)
OHL First Team All-Star
Marner completed his draft year (2015-16) with 44 goals, 82 assists for a total of 126 points in 63 games. This past year he finished the regular season with 39 goals and 77 assists for a total of 116 points in 57 games. His playoff totals, including his domination of the Memorial Cup, are simply nothing short of exceptional as he scored 16 goals and 44 points in only 18 games.
It’s crazy to send a player back to junior hockey who has completely dominated not only the OHL but the CHL Memorial Cup tournament. He has accomplished everything you would want a guy to accomplish in junior, except for winning a World Junior championship. Giving the young man much needed NHL exposure, especially introducing him to the size, speed and skill that everyday pros have should be the number one priority this year. He will not grow as a player playing against weaker completion, as his play showed he needs to be challenged in order to grow as a player and as an individual, keeping him with the big club will do that. This is where the importance of guys like Brooks Laich, and Matt Hunwick and yes…Joffrey Lupul, come into play. These older men are imperative to the development of young up and coming prospects in the NHL. Who’s better to learn from than guys who have been doing it for over a decade.
There is a perception among media and fans listing the few reasons as to why Mitch Marner will not succeed and I can’t disagree more with these doubts. The knock against Mitch Marner is his size but in reality he’s not even close to being one of the smallest guys in the NHL. Marner is listed at 5’11 170 pounds. He’s being compared to Patrick Kane, led the entire league in scoring in 16-17 and is listed at 5’11 177 pounds. Marchand, Gaudreau, Ennis, Cammalleri, Granlund and Gallagher are just few good players who are shorter than Marner. Did I mention that the best player on the planet, Sidney Crosby, is 5’11? Some of the best players to ever play the game were much smaller than Mitch Marner. For example Maple Leaf greats Dave Keon and Ron Ellis were only 5’9, Martin St.Louis listed at 5’8, Marcel Dionne was 5’8. So why is everyone questioning what this ultra talented kid is capable of accomplishing at the next level? Given the success of smaller players in the NHL especially in the last 10 years. In my view Mitch Marner is one of the smartest players I’ve ever watched, he has the hockey IQ, skill and speed to go along with a will to win, but don’t only take it from me and the countless number of hockey fans take it from a guy who coached Mitch in his final year in the GTHL while playing with the Don Mills Flyers. Coach Steve Mercer had mentioned to me once that Marner has the same ability to read the ice as some guy named McDavid.
After watching Mitch a number of years and tracking his progression as a London Knight there is absolutely not one doubt in my mind that he will be special player for a very long time and I am certain that every single person that walks through those doors at the Air Canada Centre will think the very same thing.
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