Mitch Marner’s dominance has only been highlighted in recent weeks. Not only was he named the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player, but he was also named the OHL’s Playoffs MVP. Long story short, it’s been not only a dominant year for Marner, but a historic one.
And yet, as good as he’s been, questions still remain about whether or not he’s actually ready to make the jump to the big leagues. He’s still just 5″11′ and approximately 164 pounds. He might have to play in a limited role next year if he were to play in the NHL. He’s explosive, but can it translate? What do our eyes tell us? What have the Leafs as an organization said about him?
These topics will all be covered in this article in an attempt to figure out whether or not Marner is or isn’t ready to play full-time in the NHL next season.
IS HE BIG ENOUGH?
Well, we know he’s just 164 pounds. But what can we expect him to weight when training camp starts?
He came into the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine at 159.5 pounds. By training camp last year he was up to 164 pounds. If he were to have the same four-month stretch this year, he’d come in at 168.5 pounds.
This seems like a pretty reasonable expectation. For reference, I found all of the players that came in weighing 170 pounds or less at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine and compared it to what they weighed in the training camp entering their Draft+2 season (so, the same point Marner will be at this coming September).
Here’s what I found:
Johnny Gaudreau is listed right now at 157 pounds. Tyler Ennis is listed at 160. Artemi Panarin supposedly weights 170 pounds. Nikolaj Ehlers, who had a solid 38 point rookie season for the Winnipeg Jets this year, didn’t appear to have his development hindered by playing in the league at 172 pounds.
WOULD A LIMITED ROLE HURT HIS DEVELOPMENT?
This is a tricky one. I did a quick search for players that would fit the criteria of being teenagers playing in limited minutes in their rookie year, and here’s the list I got:
I guess we could argue two things here: that if Marner can just get 800 minutes of ice-time next year, we probably don’t have to worry too much about his development (for reference, that’d be less than 10 minutes a game over 82 games).
We could also argue that, by nature of his junior production, Marner automatically has a higher chance of turning out good anyways if we’re using history.
So, would Marner be hurt by playing a limited role? As long as it’s not an extremely limited role, the best guess we can make is no. But again, there are exceptions to the rule. And obviously, the sample we have to draw from is very small.
WHAT DO THE PROJECTION TOOLS SAY?
Last year, the PCS projection tool gave Mitch Marner an 80% chance of reaching 200 NHL games played (second only to Dylan Strome’s 100%).
Now, we don’t know what PCS would give him anymore because the tool is offline now (its creators were hired by the Florida Panthers). But we do have a new tool called pGPS, and Marner’s D+1 was so good that the tool didn’t even give him a score – his production was so off the charts that nobody, in the history of the OHL, even compared to him.
(By the way, the only players that were so good that they broke PCS last year were Connor McDavid and Evgeni Svechnikov).
This definitely gives credence to the idea that Marner is NHL ready.
BUT WHAT DO OUR EYES TELL US?
Numbers are nice, but my experience using projection tools and predictive numbers with prospects is that, perhaps more-so in prospect evaluation than any other realm of hockey, the eye test is still paramount.
So what do our eyes tell us about Mitch Marner? Does he look like someone ready to play in the NHL?
My personal opinion on this is that Marner looks like he fits the role that lots of people are pegging him for next year: a limited NHL role. The skating, the puckhandling, the goalscoring, the passing, the two-way play, his physical maturity – all look to me like they have enough polish to play in the NHL, but he doesn’t look like a full-time top-six forward just yet.
I think if he plays in the NHL next year that’s what we’ll see: a young player playing up and down the lineup, getting sheltered minutes, but not minutes that are so sheltered that he doesn’t have an opportunity to grow. He’s someone that looks ready to contribute, but not in a key role like a McDavid or Panarin.
WHAT DO THE LEAFS THINK?
Having a pulse on what the organization thinks is important too and gives us a rough idea of their line of thinking on the matter.
GM Lou Lamoriello said back in March he didn’t feel Marner was ready at that point in time, but that things could change by the end of the summer.
Mike Babcock reiterated that point this past weekend, saying that Marner’s commitment to “eating right, living right, and lifting right” this summer would play a large part in determining if he’ll be NHL-ready come the fall. Babcock added that the team doesn’t want to hurt him or see him get injured, which goes back to our points about physical maturity being a key for Marner if he’s going to make the jump.
We can’t be conclusive based on the veiled comments the organization has sparingly made on Marner’s status moving forward, but it definitely seems the organization is fully prepared to send him back to junior if need be. But again, ultimately for the organization, it seems a lot of it is going to come down to whether they feel Marner is physically ready to play in the NHL next season. As we can guess from our look at Marner’s weight, it’s going to very close on whether or not Marner makes the grade.
SO, IS HE NHL READY OR NOT?
The boring answer is we don’t know for sure. I think that when you combine all the various factors – his physical maturity, the sort of role he might play in, his elite level of production in junior, what our eyes tell us, what the organization tells us – you get an optimistic lean – but only slightly.
My personal opinion? Marner will probably be in the NHL next year as long as he makes the most of his summer, but there’s still a real chance that he won’t be.
Gun-to-my-head, no-more-political-waffling answer? Marner will almost definitely be in the NHL just given his level of productivity alone, and it’s safe to pencil him into the lineup. Have your erasers ready, though.