SUNRISE — The Toronto Maple Leafs, not long ago run by a general manager who promised to build a team with “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” have used the fourth overall pick to select one of the smallest players in the draft.
Fortunately for the Leafs, Mitch Marner makes up for his lack of size (he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds) with a huge amount of talent. The 18-year-old forward had 44 goals and 82 assists this season for the London Knights. His 126 points were second to only Dylan Strome (who went third overall to Arizona) in the OHL.
Marner also enters a Leafs organization that’s more than familiar with his game.
From the Globe and Mail:
… the main voice in the Marner camp is Toronto’s director of player personnel, Mark Hunter. The former Knights general manager knows Marner intimately – he picked the forward 19th overall in the 2013 OHL draft and persuaded him to forgo a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.
At that point Marner was 15 years old, 5 foot 7 and 130 pounds, and his size was the biggest reason he slipped to London at 19. Over the next two years, he grew four inches, added 30 pounds and rang up a terrific 126-point season to finish second in OHL scoring as a 17-year-old.
Hunter’s belief in him paid off. He thinks it will again for the Leafs and he has support from colleagues such as Lindsay Hofford, one of the Leafs’ newest scouts, who was the Knights’ director of scouting when they drafted Marner.
Not surprisingly, Marner has called Blackhawks star Patrick Kane “the guy I’ve always looked up to,” and he believes the NHL has changed enough to allow smaller players to thrive.
“It’s not about height,” he said. “It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. All those get you a penalty nowadays. It’s a speed game now. It’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, no matter how tall you are, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play.”