September 01 2016 08:06AM
Imagine that you're playing road hockey on the street with your close group of friends. It's been the relatively same group of buddies for a few years now, but you notice one day that you've only got 11 players — one short of the 12 needed for two full teams.
You're debating your options, when you remember there's a kid you saw practicing against the wall of your school around the corner by himself, and he looked pretty good. Not as good as you and your friends, of course, he's a little small for that, but maybe it's worth it to give him a shot, so you wander over and sure enough, there's the kid.
So you, your friends, and the kid put your sticks in the middle of the street, picking teams at random.
"Just stay back here," you say to the kid, who ends up on your team. "We'll handle this for you."
The game starts and it's classic road hockey. There's chippy stick movements, some hard defence, long shots on net of people trying to emulate their NHL heroes, and a bunch of yelling.
Everyone's expecting the kid to be the weak point. Except, suddenly, he isn't.
In fact, it's pretty clear he's the best player out there. Two defenders covering him? That's a cross-ice pass to the open target. Diving at his legs? Well, he'll just shoot it over you. You're too tired to cover him? That's great, he's just created yet another scoring chance while playing twice as much as you.
After a while, the game slows down a bit. He's been on the road hockey ball the whole time, it seems, and surely, he's done now. He's got to be too tired to keep going.
Of course, he isn't. As the game's winding down, he's just standing there, when suddenly he breaks out another deke, slowing down the opposition while speeding up your team.
Now that new dude, that's basically the story of Mitch Marner, at every single level of hockey he's played at so far.
And you and your friends, well, you're basically everyone who's assumed he wasn't going to cut it.
|Jeff||Ryan H.||Shawn||Ryan F.||Adam||Dom||Jess||Katy||Readers|
Marner was ranked #1 on our 2015 list.
|C/RW||Thornhill, ON||5'11||163||Right||London Knights||2015 Draft (1-4th)|
|2012-13||15||Don Mills Flyers Minor Mdgt AAA||GTMMHL||55||41||45||86||N/A||34||N/A|
|15||St. Michael's Buzzers||OJHL||6||1||3||4||7.1||0||N/A|
|16||Canada Ontario U17||WHC-17||5||6||3||9||N/A||2||N/A|
|pGPSn||pGPSs||pGPS%||pGPS PPG||pGPS PP82||pGPSr|
|25 (14/18)||16 (8/18)||64.0% (3/18)||0.82 (3/18)||67.11 (3/18)||52.38 (2/18)|
- pGPSn: The number of matches between the subject and the player-seasons (one season by a single player, i.e, John Tavares 2008 OHL) in the historical sample.
- pGPSs: The number of statistical matches that became NHL regulars. This is determined by playing 200 NHL games.
- pGPS%: Simply s divided by n, this is the percentage of statistical matches that successfully became NHL players.
- pGPS PPG: The NHL points per game of successful matches.
- pGPS P82: The same as pGPS PPG, but stretched over 82 games.
- pGPSr: A bit of a hybrid number, this pGPS Rating combines the percentage and points per game to produce a number that includes both likelihood of success and potential upside.
Based on the success of his historical comparables, Marner is projected to become a top-six forward in the NHL.
To learn more about the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, check out this post.
The Eye Test
In the profile's introduction, I clearly hyperbolized a bit, but watching Marner play junior hockey these past two seasons really is a bit like watching a created character dominate a video game.
He doesn't necessarily "look" the part of the majority of junior hockey players who succeed, but there's a beautiful art form in his playing style. There's the highlight reel plays, sure, and the point totals and the awards. But coming with all that is a player that's earned the label "too good for junior hockey" - and with good reason: he's really got nothing left to prove in the OHL.
From TSN's Bob McKenzie in December:
I think he's probably taking shifts that are probably considered too long, I think there are some nights where he can score his two or three points and never break a sweat, and sometimes the junior game might almost be too easy for him.
McKenzie's comments weren't meant to be disparaging, but rather the honest truth. Marner's playing style is as much about beating opponents with his head as with his hands and feet. He's in immense physical shape despite his smaller frame, but often he's able to make the right move in a tight space.
Watch any highlight reel or game tape and you'll notice the little things about the way Marner does his business on the ice: the casual nature of many of his passes that end up with an easy scoring chance for his teammate, or the almost slow-motion nature of the two similar between-the-legs goals he scored that were replayed over and over and over again.
In just about every London Knights game since he's risen to the OHL's elite, Marner's ability to create offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates led a deep roster even further ahead of the pack.
Of course, it helped often being on a line with two talented forwards in Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak, and being fed by puck-moving defenceman in Olli Juolevi.
In 2014-15, Max Domi was among the Knights' top players, and in Marner's rookie season of 2013-14, current Vancouver Canuck Bo Horvat was leading the charge as well.
Marner's certainly had no shortage of talent around him to help make his junior career a great one.
READ MORE: IS MITCH MARNER NHL READY? (Shawn Reis)
But when you add it all up, Marner's game was really a step ahead of just about everyone he faced this past season. The best player on junior hockey's best team, Marner was the prime attraction in the CHL this season.
In an interview at the Memorial Cup, Knights coach Dale Hunter touched on some of Marner's other unsung qualities and their translation to the NHL.
“He kills penalties for me. He blocks shots. He does the little things, too, that a guy like Mike [Babcock] would like because that’s what coaches like,” Hunter said. “That their best players can also block shots, kill penalties, do the little things to win. He’ll do that. He’s a character kid that way.”
No one's bringing in a player like Mitch Marner solely to kill penalties, but it's never a bad thing to have that sort of extreme trust with your coach.
"Vision" might be an impossible quality to quantify, but his teammate Tkachuk affirms that Marner's got loads of it. "He's got eyes in the back of his head... he's able to find you anywhere on the ice," he said to Sportsnet earlier this week.
In Marner we find more strengths than weaknesses, and very few glaring holes in his game. His skating ability is often noted as agile and quick by most scouts, his stickhandling abilities are very high, and his offensive production speaks for itself.
Try to find a scouting report or Marner that outlines a major weakness that's anything other than size-related or "might take some time adapting to the pro game".
The truth is, you won't. Of course, this doesn't mean he's a perfect junior player or doesn't need refining, but he's a player that's been so good amongst his peers that it's extremely challenging to find something that he's doing wrong. Marner's disadvantages are few and far between, and any reason most will tell you why he won't develop into a upper-tier NHL talent are almost entirely size-related.
He won't likely be able to play exactly the same way he did in junior in hockey's toughest league with as much space and time to operate, but he's a player so quick and with a very high hockey IQ and vision that adapting to the next step up should only be a natural progression. There might be an initial adaptation period (10 games? 25? A full year?), but there are very, very few prospects who enter the NHL with his combination of skills.
As Seen on TV
Marner's definitely had no shortage of highlight reel plays in his time in junior hockey.
Instead of being picky, here's all of them from this past year.
And the video's made the rounds before, but if you haven't seen it yet, watching 10 year-old Mitch Marner's quite the treat as well.
The most interesting thing about Marner's past season might have been the hype that followed it.
Having already put up 126 points in his 2014-15 draft year, there wasn't much left for Marner to accomplish individually in the OHL.
Or so it seemed.
Held pointless just three times over his final 52 games and putting up points in his final 16 playoff games and every game in the Memorial Cup, Marner was a man on a mission in 2015-16.
Once he officially became a part of the Leafs organization after he was taken fourth in the 2015 draft, Marner went from a very good junior hockey player playing in Ontario, to a very good junior hockey player playing in Ontario that was now the property of a team with an extremely large fanbase bored with their NHL roster.
In the "social media age" with highlights more easily accessible than ever before, Marner was perhaps the perfect player for Leafs fans to focus on in an eventful year full of, well, really unwatchable NHL hockey. As much as the efforts to tank for a top draft pick were in full force, a fix for winning, exciting, highlight reel hockey pushed Marner's season with London Knights to tantalize with new exploits just about every weekend, each one seemingly topping the last.
READ MORE: MITCH MARNER SHOULD BE IN THE NHL NEXT SEASON (Draglikepull)
The best example of this would be a three-day stretch approximately halfway through the season.
On December 4th, Marner scored a hat trick against Windsor. The next day? He scored a hat trick again, and added two assists against Ottawa. And on the third game in three days? Well, he didn't score three again, but had a goal and two assists in his last game for around a month as he'd head off to the World Juniors.
In his first WJC, Marner produced six points in five games for Canada, including a two-goal third period in the quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Finland. In a disappointing tournament, Marner served as arguably the team's best forward, tied for the team lead in scoring.
Following the WJC, there was another major factor that likely helped fuel some attention towards Marner: injury to William Nylander, the Leafs' other young star.
Of course, attention remained strong on the high-flying Marlies despite the Nylander loss, but Marner continued to play an a unsustainably good level... for the remainder of the season.
It wasn't uncommon for a Friday night or Sunday afternoon Knights game to become prime Sportsnet material, and with good reason: the team's +137 goal differential over the course of the regular season stood 49 goals better than any of their OHL counterpoints.
Marner produced three points or more 23 times over the course of the OHL regular season, just a hair over 40% of his games.
Think about the number of GIFs, Vines, and Twitter videos you watched this past season of Marner.
Think about the number of articles and discussions about him on a near-weekly basis.
Even from two, three years ago the way we consume hockey highlights has become much more advanced, simpler, and more frequent.
It's not hard to say that without the technology we have today, Marner's 2015-16 season would've been a different one. Perhaps the on-ice results would've been the same, sure, but without the Leafs blogs and Forums, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other online communities, Marner's season simply couldn't have been followed as extensively by a non-London area resident as extensively as say, a prospect in a similar situation in say, 2000, 2005, or even 2010.
Despite missing out on the Hamilton Spectator Trophy due to their head-to-head record with the Erie Otters (both teams had 105 points), they were, by the majority opinion, the team to beat heading into the OHL playoffs.
It was a good pick for those who chose it, as they won their final thirteen games of the OHL playoffs before going 4-for-4 in the Memorial Cup.
Without taking anything away from his season, let's be honest, even though he was arguably the best talent in junior hockey last season, there was another major contributing factor that caused Marner to be one of the key focuses in the OHL: 2016 was a down year for top-end Canadian draft-eligble OHL talent.
The highest Canadian OHLer taken? Mikey McLeod, at 12th, a far cry from the three OHL players taken in the top four last season in Marner, and Erie Otter teammates Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. The game's "top" prospects in 2015-16 all came from "not-Ontario".
Marner's as much a talented player as he is a product of his time period.
So let's celebrate the success of 2015-16 Marner, but let's not forget the uniqueness of that season too. It's rare a player of his skill level and point production goes back to junior and steals the show for a second year in a row following his draft year, and it's never been done in a year where that player also belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There were other great junior performances: from his teammates Christian Dvorak, Matthew Tkachuk and Olli Juoelevi, from Kevin Labanc in Barrie, who put up a higher point total at 127, but fell behind Marner in points per game (and was also nearly two years older), and from his buddy Dylan Strome, who was in a similar role in a draft+1 year putting up 111 points.
Pierre-Luc Dubois had a great year in the QMJHL, and imports Alex Nylander and Mikhail Sergachev provided plenty of entertainment for OHL audiences.
Even if three of the first four players taken in the 2016 draft didn't play in the CHL, there was a lot to like about junior hockey last year, for sure.
But if you wanted to watch the CHL's best player last season, the expectations were on Marner all year to deliver... which he did just about every night all year long. Marner was a ticket-seller, bringing in hundreds of Leafs fans from across the province solely to see one of the most crucial pieces of their rebuild develop and wow last season right in front of their eyes. The London Knights already have the distinction of being one of the league's most popular (or unpopular) OHL teams, but the casual Leafs fanbase that took it upon themselves to track Marner's every move was a wholly unprecedented one.
And, well, as it's been said many times, it really couldn't have gone much better for him.
Why is there so much concern about Mitch Marner bulking up for training camp? He's been lifting weights for weeks. pic.twitter.com/gJUFuWAePo— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) May 30, 2016
Marner won four individual MVP awards: OHL regular season and playoff MVP, CHL Player of the Year and Memorial Cup MVP, and the OHL and Memorial Cup Championship to boot.
Video game stats, and an entire NHL fanbase loving every minute of it.
Where will Marner spend the majority of 2016-17? It's a question many have asked.
Can he make the NHL? Will he be in the press box? Can he handle the minutes? What line will he play on? Will he play centre or wing?
Most agree he'll make the opening day roster, but where he goes from there is anyone's best guess.
Though the league will likely be different than any other he's played before, the challenge for Marner is the same one that's followed his entire career — Sure, he's really good, but can he step up to the next level? For all the talk that's assumed he won't cut it, it's hard to really argue with his resume.
Whether his size will legitimately hinder him, or just be a talking point for an older generation to focus on is unforeseen.
But for what it's worth, Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said earlier this year to TSN 1050 about Marner's weight, as transcribed by our friends at MLHS:
I think it’s a mistake if we focus on a number and say, “this has to be your weight.” I think all we have to say to Mitch is just, “become as strong as you possibly can by the time September rolls around.” If that means you’re 163, or you are 165, or are you 170 – it really doesn’t matter. You can’t manufacture weight, especially for a guy like Mitch. He’s not a player that, even if he’s at 170, is necessary going to be using his weight as an advantage for him.
In a roster full of uncertainty, Marner's usage is one of the biggest question marks heading in 2016-17. Projecting an accurate point total is near impossible, especially when it's unknown exactly how he'll perform. But for a player who often approached 30 minutes of ice time as a junior forward, conditioning and NHL-ready fitness shouldn't really be an issue.
No matter what method you use, Mitch Marner's ceiling in the NHL is an extremely hard projection to make. He's an exciting, flashy, smart player who's impressed at every level he's played at.
Marner himself weighed in on the issue of his NHL-readiness, and the most common concern that follows him around:
“The NHL’s changed. It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. A lot of those will get you a penalty nowadays," Marner said. "It’s about the speed game now; it’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play. It’s up to you to put the work in.”
There's been more than a few examples of players at a similar height and weight who have been able to not only "cut it", but succeed and excel.
While Marner does play an agile game and is often looking to "dodge hits", it doesn't necessarily mean he's afraid of contact or "getting in the dirty areas". Take, for example, this play from a drill earlier this summer:
Marner vs. Matthews. In full horizontal glory. pic.twitter.com/2izuZxCEmT— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) July 7, 2016
It's a challenge to truly evaluate him and perhaps we've all gotten ourselves a little stir-crazy over a player who's had an absolutely exceptional junior career.
We've got the GIFs, the videos and the MVPs. We've got the statlines and the debates and the doubts and the things to praise.
Soon, we should be able to see what he can do at the NHL level. It's lazy analysis to say "we'll have to wait and see," but really, that's all we can do this point.
In the 2015 NHL playoffs, Marner was interviewed about his future ambitions. He compared himself to Tyler Johnson.
“A guy who wasn’t even drafted is leading the playoffs in points, always being told he was too small, and look at him now.
That’s what I’m trying to do.”
If all goes well, hopefully Marner will be that role model for another undersized player a few years down the line.
The Rankings So Far
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #3 William Nylander
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #4 Nikita Zaitsev
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #5 Kasperi Kapanen
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #6 Connor Brown
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #7 Andreas Johnson
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #8 Dmytro Timashov
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #9 Travis Dermott
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #10 Nikita Soshnikov
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #11 Jeremy Bracco
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #12 Brendan Leipsic
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #13 Zach Hyman
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #14 Carl Grundstrom
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #15 Andrew Nielsen
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #16 Tobias Lindberg
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #17 Yegor Korshkov
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #18 Adam Brooks
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #19 Kasimir Kaskisuo
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: #20 Garret Sparks
TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: 10 players who received no votes from us
- TLN Top 20 Prospects 2016: Honourable Mentions