Is Mitch Marner NHL Ready?

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:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 4.19.48 PM

This pretty much aligns with the above idea of Marner being able to add another 4-5 pounds before his next training camp.  Now, as the table shows, it could be more and it could be less.  But penciling Marner in for a net gain of 9-10 pounds from the time he attended the combine seems reasonable.
So is that big enough to play in the NHL?

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.

But, it would also put Marner well below average.  Even among full-time rookie forwards this past year, the average weight was 193.86 pounds. I guess, in short, the answer is maybe.  It’s fair to say it’s fully possible that Marner can handle playing in the league next year if he weighs in the realm of 169 pounds.  But, it’s also fair to it’s not ideal – after all, he’d be among a very select few to play in the league at or below 170 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:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 6.54.28 PM

It seems to me like the players that were at the 778 minute mark or above typically turned out just fine.  It also seems to me like the players that had higher points per game in the year before they made the jump to the NHL usually turned out better as well.  I’d imagine a big part of that is players with higher points per game are generally higher quality, so they’re naturally going to get more ice-time as a result.  In any event, that’s good for Mitch Marner and his 2.04 points per game this year.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 4.12.04 PM

(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.

  • Benjamin

    I think the fact that he doesn’t even chart on this pGPS tool is pretty telling.

    He’s made a mockery of the OHL for two seasons now. What are we going to do, force him back for a third because he’s 5-10 lbs ‘underweight’? The AHL-CHL agreement has forced our hand here.

  • Benjamin

    Size has a statistically insignificant NEGATIVE correlation with NHL scoring ability. In other words being bigger doesn’t help you score at all on average.

    Maybe if Marner was a face puncher his weight might be an issue, but I don’t see him playing that role. The fact that people perceive size to matter is the only reason it matters. Its prejudice plain and simple and is as irrational as any other prejudice.

    Patrick Kane is 174 lbs, Marner was 169 last Christmas and can easily be 174 by training camp. Exactly how was Kane negatively impacted by the fact that he is 174 lbs?

    By NHLe Marner is better than Matthews and Nylander right now (but he’s 6 months older than Matthews so maybe Matthews catches up eventually). Everyone seems to have those two penciled into the lineup. Why not the guy whose better than both?

    After Stamkos and JVR, Marner will be the next best player on the Leafs next year.

    By the way when you include playoffs Marner’s PPG is 2.13 not 2.04. Just playoffs 2.44.

  • Tybot

    We can do all the speculating we want (because its fun!) but ultimately we don’t know. It’s not going to be these advanced stats and player projection charts that will determine if he will stay in the NHL – It’ll be the 9 games he plays for the Leafs next season. Ultimately, those 9 games will be the deciding factor of where he ends up.

  • Tybot

    Thing is, if we let him go back to the OHL, he may pick up habits that would get him destroyed in the NHL. He can easily deke trough the entire team, or just streak down the blueline with his head down, but if he does that in the NHL he’ll only hurt himself

  • silentbob

    The only answer ANYONE can give is – MAYBE. That’s it.

    Given that the leafs will have several rookies and prospects playing in their first NHL seasons next year – Matthews, Nylander, Zaitsev, Hyman, Leivo, Soshnikov, Lindberg, Johnson etc.. and that this isn’t a year the Leafs are/should expect to compete for a championship (if they just make the playoffs its a nice bonus), there is no reason to potentially rush Marner to the NHL.

    No prospect was ever hurt by more development time. Let him finish his OHL career, let him go to another WJC, let him work on other areas of his game while not having to worry about his offensive production, let him spend some time with the Marlies next year…..its not like the Toronto Maple leafs are 1) Going anywhere and 2) need him to make a playoff or championship run.

    • Benjamin

      You can’t prove people aren’t hurt by ‘more development time’ same way you can’t prove people are hurt by ‘being rushed’.

      And why would the Leafs competitiveness or lack thereof affect Marner’s situation at all? This is, after all, about Marner and where he likely belongs next year. It’s about where his game will be most likely to grow and where he’ll learn the more valuable lessons. Anyone could tell you that’s likely in the NHL.

      • silentbob

        Really? Luke Schenn wasn’t hurt by being rushed to the NHL?

        Marners game isn’t 100% perfect, and if he is in the NHL next year not only will he have to continue to work on the things he needs to improve, but he’ll have to worry about/work on offense as well (cause going from OHL to NHL is a big jump). Leaving him in the OHL allows him to focus on and work on the other elements of his game while not worrying about his offense.

        He’ll get more ice-time in the OHL (really, if they sign a center in the off-season, where does he play in the NHL? 3-4 line?), more experience as a leader, more international experience, most likely playoff experience, high pressure experience, experience winning etc…

        It boils down to this – putting him in the NHL MIGHT ruin his career, letting him develop longer WON’T hurt him. What is the benefit in taking that chance?

        • Benjamin

          Prove it. Prove that Luke Schenn was hurt by entering the NHL when he did. Do you remember his rookie year? He definitely held his own. Prove to me that he wasn’t always going to be a 4th defenceman.

          Alternatively, what if Mitch Marner went down to Junior A next year? He’d get more ice time than in London, he’d still play in the WJC. That going to help him?

          What if, instead, he played on a team within the same stratosphere as his talent level. Might that help his development?

          • silentbob

            The “hockey world” agreed he had a tone of potential, much better then a top 4 D-man, and ultimately he didn’t even turn out to be a top 4 D-man. At the very least you can say playing in the NHL as quickly as he did didn’t do him any favors.

            Can explain how playing another year in the OHL, in the WJC etc… is going to hurt him? Cause playing in the NHL to early could very well hurt his development and career.

            Its so funny, before the leafs drafted Nylander and Marner all I ever heard from Leaf fans was – we need to be patient, build a development system learn from the Red Wings etc… As soon as they get a couple prospects with potential “get them in the NHL asap”.

          • Benjamin

            The hockey world thought he’d be better, he wasn’t better, and you want to say it’s because he was in the NHL at 18 yo. There’s no proof there, just everyone’s best guess about what happened. Maybe what happened was he shouldn’t have been picked 5OA. Maybe he picked up some bad training habits after he made the NHL. No one knows for sure, and no one, you or I included, can ‘prove’ anything.

            Another year in the OHL could easily hurt him. He could pick up some awful habits against competition that he (rightfully) doesn’t find remotely challenging anymore. His transition to the NHL could be made way more painful and difficult by these bad habits. He could also get hurt heading into the NHL, granted. No option is without risk. But I’ve got more than a little faith that Babcock knows how to put Marner in a position to succeed, same as he did with Nylander.

            And the last ‘Marner’ or ‘Nylander’ the Red Wings had was Yzerman. What did they do with him again?

          • silentbob

            He’ll pick up bad habits? Well thats certainly a risk equal to ruining his career by rushing him into a spot he isn’t ready for………When was the last documented case of too much time in the OHL costing a player in the NHL because of bad habits?

            The Red Wings have had several top ten picks since Yzerman, all continued to spend time in junior and the AHL (though Babcock wasn’t there for any of them, so who cares?). Players like Nyquist, Tatar etc… All spent time in the AHL (and if you look up their comments on it, they say it was the best thing for them and taking time to develop was a big benefit to their careers). Even Larkin didn’t get called up to the NHL until Babcock was gone.

          • Benjamin

            Once again, show me why you are so confident that bringing Marner into the NHL next year will ruin his career. Just like Larkin’s been ruined eh? If we want to keep appealing to authorities, every single player I’ve seen interviewed says that the NHL is different, that the NHL is faster and more difficult than any other league in the world. Marner needs to start learning what he can and can’t do at that level if his game is going to grow. It will not grow by dummying 16 year olds anymore.

            And players like Gustav Nyquist (121th OA) and Tomas Tatar (60th OA), those are your comparables for Marner (and Matthews/Nylander)? Since Yzerman was drafted in ’83, one Red Wing pick taken earlier than 10th OA went back to junior for the following year (like Marner already has). ONE! The rest went to the AHL or NHL.

          • silentbob

            I have no idea if it will ruin Marners career…..but it COULD. At this point its all risk with no reward. There is no cap reason they need Marner to play, not positional reason, and no competitive reason.

            There is no difference between a player drafted 5th and 60th, however if you really feel the need to look at the Red Wings past – Shawn Burr, Brent Fedyk, Joe Murphy, Keith Primeau & Martin Lapointe all spent time in Junior andor the AHL before playing with the Red Wings full time.

            If Marner could play for the Marlies next year, would you say that was the best place for him

            As for my appeal to authorities, you`re right the NHL is faster then any other league, which is why you shouldn`t be so fast to throw a 19 year old kid to wolves. As for what the REd Wing players had to say:

            “You get to play in Grand Rapids, which is a great city, and you get put into a system where you learn how we play the game. You are put in all kinds of situations there, whether it’s the power play, penalty killing, five-on-five, late in games, whether you’re up a goal or down a goal, you play in key situations. That really prepares you for when you get here.”

            “It was tough but at the same time I tried to stay patient,” Kindl said. “Basically, it was what I knew was going to happen and then it was the best thing that could happen for me.”

            “I did 2 1/2 years down there,” Andersson said. “I know the Red Wings’ plan. They want their guys to be ready when they get up here and I felt I was ready when I got here.”

            http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/red-wings-are-exhibit-a-on-how-to-build-a-dynasty/article12147433/?page=all

            Would Marner really be `ready` if he was playing with the Leafs in Oct……..

          • Benjamin

            Yeah, I wish Marner could’ve played in the AHL this year. I wish he could’ve taken the exact same route that Nylander did. But guess what, he can’t.

            Seriously, imagine Nylander in the OHL right now, same as you’re proposing for Marner. That would be messed up. I don’t think Nylander would be the player he is right now, the one who was fantastic in his 20 game call up to end the season. Remember that vicious head shot he took in the WJC? You think Marner isn’t running that same risk down in juniors?

            And you’re underestimating the AHL right now, because it’s waaaay closer to the NHL than the OHL. If you’re ok with Marner going to the AHL (which he cannot legally do), it’s a much smaller jump to the NHL than the step back down to the OHL.

        • I think it helps to remember who the coach was at that time as well. Babcock first of all does very well at putting his players in a position to succeed. Not asking too much, not putting too much pressure on them. Secondly, his players have to prove themselves ready. Babcock wouldn’t have a player on the roster that couldn’t handle the situations he plays them in. In that sense NHL experience would be much better for Marner’s development than more OHL experience.

          • silentbob

            And how many 18-19-20 year olds did Babcock call up when he was with the Red Wings? His history would indicate he prefers long development to seeing kids playing in the NHL.

  • Tybot

    If the reports are true of him squatting 375 for multiple reps are true then size wont be a concern.

    Anyone who can push over double their body weight in one of the true indicators of core strength will be able to handle the physical game.

    Side note: How the NHL still uses bench press as an evaluating test in the combine is mind blowing.

  • magesticRAGE

    Marner will intimately dictate where he plays next year. I would bet on him making the cut, at least a 9 game tryout, but he should get limited playing time, alternating games with another forward. He had a hard time impacting the game in the rookie tournament and pre-season action last year, where some of his flare didn’t translate, and that is where some of my concern lies.

    Junior players puck watch, NHL players send you and the puck flying. Marner has taken advantage of the OHL’s scrambley play, and has torched it. It will take time to figure out what will work, and what doesn’t. Marner will encounter more learning pains (some literal) than Nylander. Willie has put on the required weight, but he also approaches the game gradually, assimilating the style (he plays different now). Marner takes things head on, which is exciting, but he may take longer to figure it out.
    I hope he can stay out of Junior, but it’s up to him.

      • magesticRAGE

        I actually don’t think he was too early. It was just his fortune that he was trying to make a squad that’s contending for the Stanley Cup, which is very hard to do. Sometimes decisions are not based on performance (his was), but cap situations and positional needs.

        Marner will not be in remotely similar situation.

  • Gary Empey

    Anyone who watched Marner at training camp last year could see he got knocked down way too often, when receiving a normal NHL shove from other players. As far as I know that has to do with weight, strength, but especially balance, and center of gravity. As others have pointed out other smallish players have figured out how to adjust their style to the NHL level. The big question is has Marner already made the adjustment? If not it where is the best place for him to develop this important skill? I think most would say at the AHL level. I don’t think in the OHL he has to deal with it as much as at the pro level. We won’t know for sure until we see him again in training camp. Both Nylander and Kapanen have also had problems in the same area.

    The rest of Marner’s game looks ready for prime time.

    “Gota stay on your feet b’ye, if you wants to play hockey on da ice.”

  • magesticRAGE

    Your chart has some sorting problems, ie: you’ve reordered the players by pGPS but not the draft order, so it looks like Ottawa picked Timo Meier (San Jose did) and Boston picked Brock Boeser (Vancouver did).

  • silentbob

    So if you’d say the AHL is the place for him, then you to question if he ready for the NHL.

    You are also arguing against yourself – you made the point that what works in the OHL doesn’t work in the NHL – therefore Marner does have elements of his game that must be worked on/changed for him to have success in the NHL. Therefore he does have things to work on in the OHL and AHL before going to the NHL.

    And yes, if Nylander couldn’t go to the AHL last year, then eh should have been in the OHL.