Report: Maple Leafs plan to use Mitch Marner as a defenceman for remainder of 2023-24 season

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
17 days ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a bit of a bomb at practice on Sunday, March 31st following a shutout victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
With the gelling forward lines and the subsequent lack of a top-pair right-handed defenceman, the Leafs announced that Mitch Marner will be playing on the back end for the remainder of the season. Head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the media about it early this morning.
“We feel as though we’ve got an opportunity to be innovative and solve a major issue all at once,” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters via phone call press conference from the Tim Hortons’ drive-thru at Kipling and Horner, just steps away from the team’s practice facility in Etobicoke. “Especially with guys like [Timothy] Liljegren out long-term, there’s an opportunity for Mitch to log some heavy minutes with an offence that we feel is deep enough without him.”
Marner’s absence has been felt throughout the lineup, both on the power play (where he already plays the point), and the penalty kill, but it’s undoubtedly hit his linemate, Auston Matthews, harder than anybody else. The slumping centre has been held to only six goals and 15 points in his last 10 games with Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi on his wings.
“It’s obviously been a tough go for a bit here, but I think this lineup really has a chance to excel with Mitchy back there.” Matthews quipped in between one-timers at the still Keefe-less practice.”It’s gonna be like being on the power play all the time. He might hit 60 assists in his first three games back.”
Marner currently has 51 assists on the season, and while he said he was surprised by the request from Keefe, which apparently came the previous evening after 11 pm, he’s looking forward to trying something new.
“Can’t say this is something I’ve done before, but I’m looking forward to giving it a go.” Marner said following a 17th attempt at the Michigan. “I mean, how many players have gotten the opportunity to play forward and defence before? Brent Burns, Dustin Byfuglien…Bo Jackson?”
Marner seems to have the support of his teammates, with Morgan Rielly chiming in when asked about the bar that should be set for his debut on defence.
“You’d be a fool to think Mitch can’t do this” he said with a smirk.
Marner is expected to play alongside Jake McCabe to start, with the possibility of moving onto Rielly’s right side when the team needs a boost offensively.
“It should be a lot of fun. Where’s Keefer anyway?
Plot twist: The Leafs didn’t practice on Sunday, and there was no such conversation.
Happy April Fools day from The Leafs Nation.

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