Babcock defends demoting impressive rookie Mitch Marner to fourth line

AP
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Type ‘Mitch Marner‘ into a Twitter search, and you’ll see plenty of reaction to Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock putting the talented rookie forward on the fourth line Sunday.

This is a rather interesting development, because Marner, taken fourth overall in the 2015 draft, has had an impressive start to his first season with the Maple Leafs, racking up 20 points in 27 games and showing a dazzling display of speed, creativity and talent despite needing to pack on additional strength.

Against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, Marner found himself on the fourth line with Matt Martin and Ben Smith for the early portion of the game.

Prior to that, he had gone four games without a point despite 12 shots on net.

Babcock, who has always stood by his convictions in hockey, defended his decision to move Marner down the lineup.

“I’ve just been watching the games,” Babcock told Postmedia. “I think there has been a message (from the coaching staff) going on for a bit.

“That’s just the process of growing up in the National Hockey League. It doesn’t go your way all the time, in practice, in games. You have to work hard every single day. I don’t know if I saw a response — I just thought it was the right thing to do.”

Marner did bust out of his mini-slump with an assist in the third period Sunday, but the Maple Leafs lost mostly because Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov absolutely stole the game for Colorado.

The Maple Leafs are in the midst of a five-game home stand. They play the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.