There was no doubt that when the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Mitch Marner fourth overall in 2015, they were getting a budding young superstar in the making with an elite level skillset. Fans and followers of Leafs Nation were glued to the prospect reports, updates and televised events such as the World Junior Championships and Ontario League playoffs to get a glimpse of what was about to come when Marner made his NHL debut.
Now that Marner is 65 games into his long and potentially successful NHL career, Leafs fans are ecstatic that a player with his talent is part of the Shanaplan. While it’s still a small sample of his career, we are witnessing what makes Marner such a special player. His name is already up there with the likes of other superstars in the league.
Many, and I mean many, critics have always counted Marner out before he even stepped foot into the NHL. With comments like, “he’s too small, he’ll get crushed,” “he’ll be demoted before the 10- game mark,” and many other ridiculous remarks. However, Marner is proving everybody wrong and his numbers as a rookie is the evidence that supports his case.
As it stands, Marner is on pace for 65 points in his rookie year which would rank him 32nd in league scoring. If we compare that to another London Knight grad and three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane, the numbers are strikingly similar. Not to mention the style of play as highly skilled wingers with excellent speed and vision.
|Category||Patrick Kane in Rookie Yr.||Mitch Marner in Rookie Yr.*||Mitch Marner On- Pace Stats|
|Point per game Avg.||0.88||0.85||0.84|
*Note: These are the numbers for Marner’s season to date.
In his rookie year, Kane had 21 goals and 51 assists for 72 points in 82 games. Marner currently has 17 goals and 38 assists for 55 points in 65 games played. Based on the on-pace numbers, Marner would only be seven points back of Kane from what he did in his rookie season. His goals and assists totals are very similar with Kane’s and his points per game average will be off by 0.04 at season’s end.
Even though Marner went down with an injury, matching or beating Kane’s totals isn’t entirely out of the question. There are still 12 games remaining in the season. That’s plenty of time for Marner to gain more points and continue to match Kane’s production as a rookie.
Marner is among the leagues’ best when it comes to multi-point games (15, ranked 25th) and ranks fifth in three-assist games behind Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars and Connor McDavid to name a few. Marner is also on pace to have more points than Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg, Eric Staal and Jonathan Toews. All of which are elite players in the NHL.
Kane went on to record three straight 70- plus point seasons after his rookie year. While we can’t predict what Marner’s numbers will be like in years two, three and four, if he continues to produce the way he does without and major slumps, he’ll be on pace to match Kane’s totals.
In their draft years, Marner and Kane were nothing but phenomenal. Kane amassed a total of 145 points in 58 games in his draft year. Marner tallied 126 points in 63 games. Kane had a 2.5 points per game average, while Marner had an even 2.
Here is a quote by Kane complimenting Marner that was tweeted out by Blue N’ White Tonight Podcast co-host, Mike Augello:
Patrick Kane says of Mitch Marner "I think he's probably better at the full 200 ft. game" #Leafs
— Michael Augello (@MikeInBuffalo) March 17, 2017
While we’ve been told that Marner is such a special and gifted player, what exactly are the parts of his game that make him that kind of player that teams would love to have? Well, let’s look back at some of the highlights that Mitch has made this year.
Speed and Patience:
From his days in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, to the Maple Leafs, Marner is known for his speed and smooth skating. It seems that every time he steps on the ice, you have trouble finding out where he is because he’s so quick and uses the whole ice to his advantage. And for teams that will be going up against the Leafs, that’ll be a nightmare itself.
That speed will allow him to get by any player in a flash. It seemed that Florida Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson learned that the hard way.
Marner’s speed allowed him to get in front of Matheson to protect the puck and hold him off. It only took three long strides to break free and go in alone on James Reimer. Marner was patient with the puck and made a magnificent move to get Reimer out of position and score.
While this goal shows his speed and patience, it also puts the rumours to rest that because of his size, he won’t last in the NHL. He was able to break free from Matheson, who is six- foot- two and 192. If he can make a play like that, he can and will accomplish more at this level.
His speed is such an asset in a game that is already revolving around a fast-paced game. Whether it’s to elude players in the corners or to break free from a defender on a breakaway, Marner will do just that.
Puck Pursuit and Evasiveness:
One thing that we’ve noticed this year, and from the past, is that Marner is in constant pursuit of the puck. He’s always tracking it down and is continuously trying to create a turnover, leading to a shot on net or possibly a goal. And that aggressive style of play in the offensive zone will sit well with coaches who want their players to get as much puck possession as possible.
This was evident in a game against the Buffalo Sabres early on in the season.
Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons was able to block Tyler Bozak from retrieving the puck. Marner comes in and forces a turnover, allowing the Leafs offensive zone pressure to continue. Marner quickly throws the puck down low to Bozak behind the net. Bozak then moves out in front of the net, waiting for someone to get open. As Marner made the pass to Bozak he quickly threw himself out of the play for split second circling to the boards and back around. He then used his speed to come back in, catching Dmitry Kulikov off guard. Marner evades the tie- up and goes to the front of the net for a tip in from Bozak’s pass.
Marner’s evasiveness and speed allowed him to get away from Kulikov, making the tie up virtually impossible to achieve while he was driving to the net. Marner took himself out of the play for a second, while everyone shifted their focus on the puck carrier. Once he saw everyone, including Kulikov, focused on Bozak, Marner made his move and jumped back into the play.
The same could be said for Marner’s second goal of the game. Four Sabres players are focused on James van Riemsdyk behind the net. Marner then makes a drive to the net without being noticed by anyone and wins a battle for the loose puck on Marcus Foligno. He pulled himself out of the play for second, staying high at the top of the circle and then jumped in at the last second to make it 2-0 Leafs. That evasive play and awareness threw the Sabres off for two goals, which proved to be costly.
Here is another example of Marner’s patience at the Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.
Marner is able to get possession of the puck after Morgan Rielly made a smart and safe play to pinch in and keep the puck alive. Marner then begins to proceed to the higher and dangerous scoring area.
In the process he is patient with the puck, making a last second move to cut in between Anthony Mantha and then Red Wing defenseman and current Leaf, Alexey Marchenko. After being patient and then making a move in the middle of the ice, Marner gets a fantastic wrist shot off for his ninth goal of the season.
Marner is always patient with or without the puck. He can be very deceptive. Just when you think he’s going one way with the puck, he quickly goes in the opposite direction and throws the opposition off.
There are so many times when a player makes a move and you can’t help but say, “How the hell did he do that?” Mitch Marner does a lot of those kind of plays.
This play by Marner is one where you can’t help but drop your jaw in amazement. It’s like he had eyes in the back of his head. He knew that Bozak was going to trail so he made a quick backhand pass to Bozak in the middle, catching Carey Price off guard.
Marner’s vision is extraordinary. Even when a play doesn’t seem possible, Marner is there to make something out of nothing. Marner is already in tight in front of the net, in between the circle and the goal line and is able to make a perfect no look pass to Bozak.
Here is another pretty play from his three-assist night against the Florida Panthers.
The third assist is what stands out. Marner is all alone when he gets control of the puck and his back is facing Bozak and van Riemsdyk. It looks like Marner is going to go backhand, but then quickly decides to go to his forehand. Like the Montreal assist, it seemed as if Marner had eyes in the back of his head.
The Complete Package:
The above clips all show Marner’s different skill sets. But this goal against the Buffalo Sabres encompasses everything that makes him a really special player.
While on the power-play, and I notice this every time, Marner starts deep in his own zone to generate enough speed to either join the play or carry the puck up into the offensive zone. Once Nikita Zaitsev is able to make a play to Tyler Bozak, he chips it to van Riemsdyk on the wing. Marner then comes in along the wing to retrieve the loose puck.
Once he’s in the offensive zone, he’s already generated enough speed to get past and evade Brian Gionta while protecting the puck. He’s then able to get close to Robin Lehner and draw Rasmus Ristolainen close enough towards him that he’s able to make a quick play behind the net. Marner’s skating comes into the spotlight on the wrap-around thanks to his amazing foot and edge work. He waits just long enough to try and throw the puck out in front. Fortunately, it goes off Lehner and in the net.
Marner has always been a special player when it comes to his skating and moves in tight in front of the net. This clip is the perfect example of his vision, agility, balance and skill.
At 19, Marner is showing the difference between a great player and an elite player. He has the tools and skills to be a high scoring player in this league for many years to come. It’s also evident that his transition to the NHL has been nothing but smooth. Yes, there have been some mistakes, but he’s able to shrug it off and come back and take charge of the game, no matter what situation the team is in.
His work ethic and determination is also what’s setting him apart from other players in the league. Not a lot of players with his skill like to get into the corners and battle. Sometimes they shy away and let other players go in. However, Marner is always there to try and create something. And when he gets the puck, he’s able to work his magic.
With the season that Marner has had, he’s making his case as Rookie of the Year. The injury he sustained may have hurt his chances, but even with the missed time, he’s still producing and is five points behind current leader Patrik Laine.
We knew that this rookie class was going to be great. But with Marner’s play this year, he has been nothing but exceptional, exceeding management’s and fans expectations. He truly is a special player, something the Leafs haven’t had in a while.