Mitch Marner picked a great time to be an undersized prospect

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CHICAGO — Mitch Marner is not a big guy. That much was obvious when he walked into the United Center with the rest of the top prospects today.

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If you hadn’t guessed, that’s him in the back there.

No wonder the London Knights’ star forward is such a big Patrick Kane fan.

“He’s the guy I’ve always looked up to,” Marner said of Kane, who starred for the Knights before being drafted first overall in 2007.

“He’s a guy that I’ve wanted to image my game after. He’s a special player. What he does away from the puck, what he does with the puck. How he tricks defensemen.

“He can change his speed real fast without defensemen knowing. When he has the puck, defensemen respect him so much, they back up. When they back up into their own zone, that gives Kane the right to do whatever he wants to do with that puck.

“I know, personally, when a defenseman does that to me, it feels a lot better. You have time, you have space. You make the play that you want.”

Though not big, Marner insists he’s not as small as he’s been made out to be. At the combine, he says his measurements came in at “just under” six feet and 160 pounds. And he’s hopeful that he’s still growing. He says his brother, now six-foot-2, didn’t stop growing until he was 22.

Besides, the NHL is different than it used to be. Look at what Kane does for the Blackhawks. Look at Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau. All undersized, and all starring in a league that once demanded top draft picks be big and strong and able to fight through the obstruction.

“The NHL has changed,” said Marner. “It’s not about height. 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.”

Related: Hanifin feels he has NHL ‘mindset,’ but won’t be ‘mad’ if he goes back to college