Mike Babcock spoke with TSN during the second intermission of today’s World Junior Showcase game between Canada and Sweden. The topic of interest was Mitch Marner, and the things he had to say about the 19-year-old Leafs prospect were overwhelmingly positive.
While this is Marner’s first game of the showcase, his future bench boss liked what he saw in his preparation. “I thought he was magical yesterday in practice, the one powerplay here tonight, he made one four plays that could’ve easily been goals,” said Babcock. “I really like his attention to detail without the puck. How he knocks down pucks, how the puck always comes to him. He loves the game, his body language shows that… I think he’s a real good Leaf for a long time to come.”
Babcock also had a lot of praise for the Thornhill native’s NHL summer. “Mitch has been working with our guys, and really training hard. He’s eating right, and he’s doing everything he can to get stronger.” said the Leafs’ head coach, while brushing off assumptions that getting in shape is code for ‘bulking up’. “To say that Mitch has got to put on a bunch of weight to me is ridiculous. All you’ve gotta do is get stronger.”
When asked about his odds of making the team, Babcock sounded optimistic. “You are who you are, so be the best Mitch you can possibly be. He’s got a lot of summer here left, and he’s got to keep working at it, but he’ll have a real good chance to make the Leafs.”
The fact that the Leafs are also expected to integrate 2016 #1 overall pick Auston Matthews and 2014 first-round pick William Nylander into the roster has left many wondering if there’s room for them all to play, especially on a team laced with veterans. Babcock suggested that will be no issue, so long as they deserve the spot. “They have to decide it themselves, it’s not up to me,” Babcock said. “But when I go through it, we’ve got some good men, we’ve acquired some good men, and we have good people in our leadership group. I think we can handle some kids.”
“Obviously, we had a lot of them last year, having a few more of them this year, especially high-end ones won’t hurt us.”
Marner also spoke with the broadcasting giant and said that while Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello’s presence are noticed, he’s doing his best to tune that distraction out. “I just have to go out and not think about it,” Marner said. “I just go out here and play my game like I’ve been doing all year, have fun with the puck, and just try to do as much as I can defensively and offensively.”
While Marner will do his best to make sure that there’s a spot saved for him on this team, it seems like he’ll have NHL games to worry about instead come December.