This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…
What remains for Mitch Marner to accomplish in junior hockey? What’s the point of another year in the Ontario Hockey League?
Selected fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marner has posted back-to-back 100-point seasons with the London Knights in the OHL.
Actually, that’s understating his production. In his draft year, he scored 44 goals and 126 points in 63 regular season games. The following season, he played in six fewer games, with 39 goals and 116 points. He won a Memorial Cup in London this year and was the OHL’s playoff MVP.
That’s quite a list of accomplishments. However, it’s possible that following Maple Leafs training camp, the highly touted forward prospect could be sent back to junior. After turning 19 years old in May, he’s not yet eligible to play a season in the American Hockey League. So the options for him next season include making the NHL, getting sent back to junior or potentially playing in Europe. According to the Toronto Star, Marner doesn’t seem into the latter option.
Skill isn’t an issue.
The more pressing concerns facing Marner are size and strength. He’s listed at five-foot-eleven-inches tall and, as per the Leafs, 160 pounds. There were reports this summer Marner tipped the scales at 163 pounds.
The Maple Leafs continue through their rebuild.
Retaining the No. 1 overall pick that turned into Auston Matthews (he’s Under Pressure) is a boon for the task the Maple Leafs are currently undertaking. They also have forward William Nylander, who had six goals and 13 points in 22 games with the big club last season.
Head coach Mike Babcock told TSN that Marner has a “good chance” of making the Maple Leafs roster this upcoming season. The big focus, the coach continued, isn’t so much about putting on weight, but getting stronger.
“I want to make sure I feel comfortable enough to go out against men and play hard, and make sure I can go out there and do the things that I like to do,” Marner said earlier this summer.
The speed of today’s game has allowed for smaller players — Johnny Gaudreau, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi to name a few — to excel. This is something Marner himself has pointed out.
“The NHL’s changed. It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. A lot of those will get you a penalty nowadays,” Marner told Sportsnet.
“It’s about the speed game now; it’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play. It’s up to you to put the work in.”
It’s understandable for Maple Leafs fans to want to see Marner in the NHL as soon as possible.
With the talent the Maple Leafs have been adding to their system, the future looks bright. With that in mind, it doesn’t make sense to rush a player of Marner’s talent into the NHL if his body isn’t physically ready for the demands.
Canada’s world junior team, which looks to reclaim gold on home ice, would certainly welcome the news.