With hockey returning, it’s only logically that we start filling the site with player previews over the next month. Just think of the excitement you’ll have Christmas morning when you can run down the stairs, grab your laptop, and read all about Aaron Dell. You’re welcome.
We’re going to take a slightly different format to our player previews this year, and we’re going to zero in on one number for each player. One number that stands out about them and explore it. We’ll see how well that works out. As for today, well…
Mitch Marner’s number is 24.
24 represents the number of points that Marner put up on the power play last season. His power play points accounted for 36% of his overall point total, and his 6 power play goals made up 38% of his overall goal total. Now, last time I checked goals scored on the power play count just as much as ones scored at even strength, so I’m not so concerned about those 24 good points (although if we want to be critical 9 of those powerplay points were second assists), but perhaps it’s more important to look at what the Leafs got from their nearly $11M winger at even strength last season.
Now, it’s probably worth noting that Marner had the second highest point total of Leafs players on the power play, 1 point back of Auston Matthews. And while I’m showing some concern for his point production at even strength, he was still second on the Leafs in that regard as well, tied with William Nylander. Marner also did this nine fewer games, and there is only a two secondary assist difference between the two wingers with Marner having 10 and Nylander having 8.
Looking at Marner’s primary points he is still pretty much at the level of Tavares and Nylander, and while he played 40 minutes more than those other players, that had more games played, it doesn’t still isn’t horrific by any means, and if we are going to criticize Marner for his production in 2019-20 based on his contract, well, I guess it’s only fair that we do the same for John Tavares when the time comes to look at his numbers as well. There’s also something to be said for the fact that the reason Marner had more minutes than Tavares and Nylander in fewer games is driven by the fact that he was utilized on the penalty kill last season, and that was 130 minutes of very limited opportunity for offence, although he did pick up one assist.
While I am critical of the results side of Marner’s even strength offence, the fact that his line has been driving play into the offensive zone hasn’t been an issue.
Play has primarily moved forward, and produced worthwhile opportunities.
Again, Marner comes across good here, but in comparison to players like Nylander and Tavares he isn’t as elite offensively. Now, defensive acumen in the top six of the Leafs isn’t something I’m ready to punish anyone for, but the reality is that with Marner’s price tag it’s completely fair to ask for the elite offense with the reliability defensively.
Well over 90% of the time that Marner spent on the ice in 2019-20 was with either Tavares and Matthews and you’d be hard pressed to find a winger in the NHL who consistently had the luxury of playing with that caliber of center on every shift. The argument is that Marner can be doing more for his centers and/or may need to demonstrate what he can do on his own more often.
His offensive zone contributions need to vary more, and it can’t be limited to a zone entry, stop at the hashmarks and make an impossible royal roads pass to a streaking forward. Nor can he reside along the boards as a pinball bumper for much of the offensive zone possessions. Marner is an intelligent player, who plays much of the way that William Nylander is criticized for playing, at least in the offensive zone.
Coming full circle back to Marner’s power play numbers, it will be interesting to see what happens under a new special teams coach, and with Morgan Rielly likely returning to point on the first power play unit. Marner nearly matched his career high for power play points last season in 23 fewer games than when he put up 27 points in 2017-18. Though the Leafs will happily take points where they can get them, there needs to be proof that the 2018-19 season wasn’t a one off for Marner’s even strength outputs either.