After watching William Nylander wow the crowds for Team Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship – and battling mixed feels over the chemistry of Max Domi and Anthony Duclair for Team Canada, as neither truly benefit us in the long run – Leafs fans are long overdue for their World Juniors superstar to take home a gold medal.
After the unfairness of watching Connor Brown get snubbed by Team Canada in 2014, after watching Morgan Rielly fail to take home gold in 2013, after watching Freddie Gauthier only register one assist at last year’s games… it’s about time Toronto has a real shot of watching a prospect blow the world away.
This year? They’ll get to hopefully watch two.
With Tuesday morning’s announcement that Team Canada had narrowed their 2016 U20 World Junior Championships Selection Camp roster down to 30 names, the Leafs got to watch as two of their top-billed prospects earned a spot on the list; Mitch Marner is one of 17 forwards named to the roster, while Travis Dermott is one of 11 defenceman named as well.
Where Marner Fits In
Earlier this week, TLN’s very own Justin Fisher took a look at how Mitch Marner has been progressing this year. I’d read the whole thing, but here’s Justin’s take on what Marner has done so far with London:
The Leafs’ top pick of the 2015 NHL Draft had himself a hell of a weekend with three multipoint games in three days. On Friday, Marner assisted on three goals in London’s 6-1 win over Owen Sound. On Saturday, it was a goal and assist in another win over the Attack, this time 4-1. Yesterday, Marner added another goal and two more assists in another 5-3 win over Windsor. That’s eight points in three games, 27 points in 10 games this month, and a whopping 47 points in 22 games so far this season.
The crazy part about Marner’s scoring pace is that he’s still only fourth in the OHL scoring race. Erie’s Alex DeBrincat sits first with 52 points in 25 games while Marner’s own linemates Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk have 49 and 48 points respectively. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Marner can win a scoring title this year since it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to create separation when you’re consistently feeding the competition those sick passes.
If Marner isn’t on the top line proper at the World Juniors, he’ll almost certainly be on the second line – and as last year’s WJC proved to us, there isn’t much of a difference between the two on Team Canada. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair were centred by Sam Reinhart for the ‘first line’ last season, while Connor McDavid played with Curtis Lazar and an array of third linemates – including Nic Petan – on the ‘second’.
No one considers Sam Reinhart to be better than Connor McDavid, and Curtis Lazar and Anthony Duclair were both already in the NHL at that point. Seeing Marner anywhere in the top six is both a near guarantee and something exciting to look out for, whether he’s slotted as a centre or a wing.
Last year saw chemistry between Domi and Duclair that was so noticeable, the Coyotes went out and brought Duclair in (to what has proven to be their immense benefit). Marner has been playing with top profile linemates in London, but seeing him click with someone at the WJC could be Toronto’s way of figuring out who they need to target, should they want to bring in another prospect to tweak their pool a bit. After all, they have more than enough in the cupboard to use to bring in someone – even if they don’t find someone they particularly want to ‘pull a Duclair’ with, there’s always the discovery of what kinds of players Marner continues to thrive with.
Where Travis Dermott Fits In
Dermott went early in the second round this summer, and Toronto actually inked him before Marner; the high-scoring Erie Otters blueliner seems a lock to hit the lineup.
It’s interesting to think about where he’ll play; nine of the eleven defensive roster members are left shots, so we can’t assume a L/R pairing for the defenseman. That’s especially intriguing since that goes against Mike Babcock’s vocal preference; he’ll get to watch his prospect at a top international tournament, but he won’t get to see him in the kind of situation he favors.
Another interesting thing to consider is that Dermott is OHL-trained, and the head coach – Dave Lowry – coaches a WHL club. The defensive development style in the W is a bit different than it is in Ontario, and there are four WHL defensemen on the list as well; it should be interesting to see where Dermott falls on the depth chart, and how he’s deployed.
Overall, though, Toronto fans should be excited. This is a monster roster, and it’s got two very pivotal skaters from Toronto’s own prospect system to root for; we may not be able to clearly remember the last time a Leafs prospect was billed as a ‘must-watch’ at the WJC on a team strongly favored to take home gold, but we’ll certainly be getting our money’s worth this time around.