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Where does Mitch Marner slot in when he returns to the Maple Leafs lineup?

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Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
23 days ago
It seems like a long time since we’ve seen Mitch Marner. And in a lot of ways the Leafs have been missing him. The penalty kill could certainly benefit from his puck-stealing ways and his ability to keep the blueline honest. The powerplay could benefit from the passes that really only he can make. And while those are two big things in need of help, the Leafs at 5v5 haven’t been struggling without him and given that the Bertuzzi-Matthews-Domi line hasn’t looked too shabby, the question is whether or not having Marner return to the Matthews line is a given.
Since Marner has been gone, Auston Matthews has scored 9 goals and had 10 assists in 12 games. Amazingly enough, that means that Matthews is on a cold streak by his standards this season in the goal department but is on one of the best point production paces of his career with 19 points in 12 games. Max Domi has had 10 points in 12 games over that span and Bertuzzi 9 points in 11 games, with 7 of those points being goals. Technically neither Bertuzzi nor Domi are putting up points at the rate that Marner does but when looking at the total line offence they’ve been better than Matthews-Marner-[insert Leafs LWer here]. You could make a case for keeping one of Domi and Bertuzzi on the line and adding Marner, in which case it seems likely that Domi stays given his success with both Matthews and Marner as well as Bertuzzi being more versatile in other parts of the line-up, but is that what the Leafs really want to do?
There is a real case for keeping that group intact and that means exploring other ideas for Mitch Marner if the top line doesn’t make sense at the moment.
Likely the next thing that Sheldon Keefe will look at is whether he can put Mitch Marner with John Tavares and Bobby McMann. Tavares might not be Matthews but he’s still a capable finisher and additionally, Bobby McMann has started finding success shooting from some of Matthews’ favourite spots on the ice – it’s likely that Marner knows how to get the puck there. Having Marner as well as McMann with Tavares makes the line a lot more capable of playing in all situations as the Nylander and Tavares combination can be a struggle if pinned in the Leafs zone. Given that William Nylander has been more capable at carrying his own line than Marner has, it seems reasonable that Nylander is going to be tasked with building a capable third line and at least in the immediate easy fit seems like it could be having Nylander replace Nick Robertson on the Knies-Holmberg line.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that will happen and it is entirely possible that Sheldon Keefe sees Marner’s defensive abilities at 5v5 more important than his offensive abilities come playoff time. Is it possible to see Marner with Kampf on what could be a shutdown line? The two are familiar with each other from the penalty kill and with someone like Knies, Dewar, or Jarnkrok to round out the line that could be a long-shot possibility, though not something we’ve really seen tested before.
When it comes to who Marner puts up points with at 5v5 after Matthews the next highest forward is Matthew Knies, who was the most frequent linemate with Matthews and Marner this season. Marner had 22 points with him. After Knies’ 22 points the next highest point total for Marner with a forward is 6 with Bertuzzi and this could either be that Bertuzzi-Matthews-Marner is forever doomed to fail together or Bertuzzi’s early season struggles warrant taking another look with him and Marner playing together to see if it can work. Rate-wise Marner with Bertuzzi hasn’t been great with 1.66 p/60 and honestly, things weren’t that much better with Tavares at 1.88.
With smaller sample size combinations, Marner has been very successful with Domi and Robertson with 4.2 P/60 with Domi and 3.4 with Robertson. The numbers with Nylander are also strong but come with more of a situational caveat that they would be playing together with Matthews in trailing situations pushing offence more than typical game deployment. Still, Marner and Nylander together with Holmberg at centre would be an interesting line combination if Sheldon Keefe is comfortable giving John Tavares Calle Jarnkrok to work with. Marner has 2.32 P/60 with Holmberg.
The takeaway here is probably a simple one and that is having a good player come back and there not being a huge sense of urgency about it is a great problem to have. Having a situation where the Leafs’ bottom six is performing but now they need to play even harder to stay in the lineup is another benefit that will come from this move.
With seven games remaining and Sheldon Keefe likely having some interest in getting rest for some of his banged-up veterans we might see a lot of different looks for the Leafs in the next couple of weeks. In previous years the Game One lineup for the Leafs has often had a couple of surprises under Keefe. Perhaps having a versatile lineup with multiple deployment options is the goal over familiarity.
Data from Natural Stat Trick

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