Marner Making Magic In Matthews’ Shadow
Mitch Marner has been arguably the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs so far in this short season and seems to get better after each game. He has a natural ability to make anyone he plays with better. Whether it’s been in junior with the London Knights and players like Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak, or the Toronto Maple Leafs with his linemates Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk. With the London Knights, the line of Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk were dominant and by far the best line in the CHL as each player put up over 100 points each. That kind of success seems to be affecting both Bozak and Van Riemsdyk as they are on pace to surpass point totals neither has had since the departure of former Leafs sniper Phil Kessel two years ago. The chemistry that these three have established so far in this young season is outstanding, in the defensive zone the line has its flaws there is no doubt; but when they get a chance to carry the puck into the offensive zone you can see the magic that this line can make. All of this is led by the 19-year-old Mitch Marner.
It was a great decision by coach Mike Babcock at the beginning of the season to but the smaller winger in Marner with two of the team’s veterans and away from the rest of the young guns like Matthews and Nylander. The line of JVR, Bozak and Marner as the team’s second line has proved a success so far. Most teams are focusing on the offensive threat that Matthews and Nylander can provide that the JVR, Bozak and Marner line are getting favorable matchups much like the Matthews, Nylander, Hyman line did at the beginning of the season. There were many critics at the beginning of the season saying that Marner is too small and needed another season in the OHL but from what he has shown throughout his first 16 games there is no doubt that he belongs on this team.
After Tuesdays night’s 6-2 win for the Leafs over the Nashville Predators, Leafs Coach Mike Babcock said “I’ve never coached a kid that young that good. I’ve never been in that situation before.” That quote shows the confidence that Babcock has in him and how he holds Marner and respects his skill level. Marner still has a lot to learn in the NHL like how to improve his 200ft game but that will come with age and experience, all that is for sure right now is that he is well ahead of where a lot of people thought he would be by this time.
The 6-2 win also marked Marner’s third multi point game in his last five and while there are people talking about how he is doing great things on the ice, most of the attention from the media is still going to the Leafs first overall pick Austin Matthews who is on a nine-game goal-less streak. All that diverted attention may be a blessing in disguise for Marner, as the more attention is placed on Matthews the less pressure it puts on Marner. This will lead to a much smoother transition into becoming a full-time NHL Player which can be a huge stress reliever for a player just trying to get used to playing with men, something that Matthews did all of last season.
Marner currently sits tied for first on the Leafs in points with 15 and third in goals with 6 he is also second in rookie scoring and third in goals for rookies. Despite these numbers most of the attention that opposing players are providing is towards the other two players on his line, and when it is on him Marner has shown that he is very elusive and has a knack for evading a hit and holding on to the puck. This kind of attention gives Marner the room to make the kind of plays that many Leafs fans are getting used to seeing and something that the Leafs coaching staff wants to see more of.
At the start of the season, once Marner knew he had made the team, he told the media that his first year at training camp compared to this was vastly different. In his first year, he knew that he wasn’t going to make the team and had that mindset locked in that he was going to spend another year in London with the Knights. One OHL MVP, a Playoff MVP, and a Memorial Cup MVP season later and there was a new player ready to make this team and compete not just for a roster spot but as one of the best players on the team. If Marner can keep his play up to this level for the rest of the season it may be his name in the running for the Calder cup over the older Nylander and first overall pick Matthews.