Even without a Canadian team in the NHL playoffs, there is still no shortage of exciting hockey to watch. The Toronto Marlies swept the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to advance to the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs. While the top prospects are finding success in the AHL, other players in the Leafs’ development system continue to thrive in their playoff run in the Canadian Hockey League.
The London Knights have moved on to the Ontario League Hockey Finals with their sweep over the Erie Otters Wednesday night, winning the Wayne Gretzky Trophy. They are currently prepping for their matchup in the finals against the Niagara Ice Dogs as they eliminated the Barrie Colts in a four-game sweep.
While it has been a team effort up to this point, Leafs fans are currently witnessing the next “Magician” work his magic.
The London Knights have been dominating their opponents this year. That regular season dominance carried over into the playoffs and the Knights haven’t lifted their foot off the gas.
One thing that has Leafs fans really excited is the outstanding play of Mitch Marner.
Marner has been one of the team leaders this year and is noticeable every time he’s on the ice. The way he carries himself and the impact he has on the team is evident in the OHL playoffs. The fourth-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is turning heads and dropping jaws every single game.
Marner is leading the OHL in playoff scoring with 37 points and assists (22). Teammates Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak sit second and third respectively with 33 and 26 points.
If that isn’t enough, Marner leads the CHL in points. The next leading scorer is Sam Povorozniouk (24) of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior League and Adam Brooks (23) of the Regina Pats in the Western League. That’s a 13-point differential between Marner and the next league leader.
While the top line is dominating offensively, the play of Marner has reached a whole new level. Since game one, fans have seen what makes the highly talented 18-year-old so successful. His speed and offensive vision is outstanding, while his puck handling continues to wow fans every night. What still stands out for me is Marner’s elusive play. He seems to get out of difficult situations easily while still maintaining possession in the offensive zone. There are even comparisons to another London Knight great and Chicago Blackhawk superstar, Patrick Kane. I can see why.
Here are some highlights from Game 3.
On the third goal, Marner showed his strong puck-handling skills and elusive play. He loses the puck but is able to recover it quickly, while still having time to think about his next decision. He then makes a nifty move to break free from two attacking players and is then able to pass it off to Jacob Graves and Tkachuk is there for a tip in goal.
“His biggest skill is his brain, as far as I’m concerned. He can think on his feet, he makes decisions as quick as anybody can make them… That was really his biggest thing that I noticed about him was his brain.” – Rob Desveaux 3 Zones Hockey Owner/ Head Instructor
This is just one of many plays that Leafs fans can get excited about.
Back in August of last year, Leafs Hub had the opportunity to visit Mitch Marner at a private training session.After the session I got to talk to the owner and head instructor of 3 Zones Hockey School, Rob Desveaux.
Rob had this to say about Mitch, “His biggest skill is his brain, as far as I’m concerned. He can think on his feet, he makes decisions as quick as anybody can make them… That was really his biggest thing that I noticed about him was his brain.”
With the way the game is going and with his ability to think quickly, he will be a successful player in the NHL.
While Marner is one of the leaders, the success of the Knights is found throughout the lineup. From the great secondary scoring from guys like Aaron Berisha, Leafs prospect J. J. Piccinich to the outstanding defensive play of Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete. And who can forget the outstanding goaltending of Tyler Parsons.
This is a successful group of guys. Could history be in the making as this being one of the most dominant Knights teams ever?
CTV London Sports Anchor and The Convo podcast host, Norman James covers the Knights on a daily basis. He thinks that this group is another team to add to the list of dominant teams that the Knights have put on the ice.
“What this groups does is work really well together,” says James. “Lately, the guys seem to be getting better by the outing. It also has the benefit of really not having another equal in terms of talent, anywhere in the OHL.
“You have guys on the third and fourth units who could be big point producers on other teams, but in London, are fulfilling checking, support and complimentary roles.”
During the regular season the London Knights allowed the fewest goals against with 182 and had the highest goals for with 319, a goal differential of 137. The Knights had a goal differential of 24 between them and the next highest scoring team, the Barrie Colts.
And the success has continued into the playoffs where the Knights have been dominating their opponents. The Knights have scored 62 goals and allowed 29 for a goal differential of 33. They also swept two tough teams in the Kitchener Rangers and the Erie Otters.
Here is a chart of the London Knights hitting 50 wins in the regular season. The bold seasons indicate winning the OHL championship.
50 win seasons since 2000-01 (Bold indicates won Championship):
|Year||Record (W-L-T-OTL-SOL)||Winning %||Leading Scorer|
|2003-04||53-11-2-2-0||0.809||Corey Perry (113)|
|2004-05||59-7-2-0-0||0.882||Corey Perry (130)|
|2006-07||50-14-0-1-3||0.765||Patrick Kane (145)|
|2012-13||50-13-0-2-3||0.772||Max Domi (87)|
|2015-16||51-14-0-2-1||0.772||Christian Dvorak (121)|
In the five seasons with 50 or more wins, the Knights won the OHL title twice. The Knights won the OHL title in the 2011-12 season with 49 wins. Mitch Marner led the team in scoring in 2014-15 (126 points), just missing out on the OHL scoring title. While still a dominant team, they finished 10 games under 50 and ended up losing in round two of the playoffs.
While these records are impressive, when comparing to this year, I look at one year in particular.
The 2004-05 season saw the NHL lockout season and Canada’s dominance at the World Junior Hockey Championship. That year the Knights were a dominant offensive threat with the scoring power of Corey Perry. Dylan Hunter (104) was second in team scoring, while Rob Schremp was third (90).
Here’s another chart comparing the top scorers from 2004-05 to 2015-16:
|Corey Perry||130||Christian Dvorak||121|
|Dylan Hunter||104||Mitch Marner||116|
|Rob Schremp||90||Matthew Tkachuk||107|
The difference is that the only one that has made a significant impact in the NHL is Corey Perry. Schremp has only 54 points in 114 NHL games. He spent most of his career moving back and forth between North America and Europe and couldn’t find a permanent job in the NHL, despite his high-end skill level. Dylan Hunter spent his entire pro career in the minors and is now behind the bench of the Knights as an assistant coach.
Aside from that, there are a lot of similarities between the two teams. Both teams had talented offensive players, steady and reliable defense, and strong goaltending. This 2015-16 team has the tools to be a Memorial Cup Championship team.
“This team (2016) may actually be better offensively than that 2005 team,” James said. “You can compare numbers, but the depth scoring up front on this team is quite tremendous.”
James also mentioned that the Knights blueline was key in their success that year. Danny Syvret was the Defenseman of the Year and he was a key player on the backend along with current NHLers Marc Methot and Dan Girardi.
This year, the Knights have Juolevi and Mete on the backend to compliment and help drive the offense. They have been critical pieces in the Knights success this year.
The Knights have had three players hit the 100-point mark in back to back seasons (Marner, Dvorak and Domi in 2014-15 and Dvorak, Marner and Tkachuk in 2015-16). The last time the Knights had three players hit the century mark in points was back in 2006-07 when Patrick Kane had 145, Sergei Kostitsyn had 131 and Sam Gagner had 118.
There’s no doubt that this London Knight team is exciting to watch, especially if one of your favorite team’s top prospect is on there. They have an abundance of skill throughout the line-up with key contributors on each line. There is also a number of undrafted talents in Tkachuk, Juolevi and Mete and other names such as Cliff Pu and Max Jones whose names will be called at the draft in June.
Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk will be key players playing a significant role in the NHL. Marner will be an elite scoring winger, while Tkachuk and Dvorak will be great power-forwards. Only time will tell on their success, but they will be in the NHL for years.
The Knights are getting ready to try and win their third OHL title in five years. Could a trip to the Memorial Cup be on the horizon?