The first time the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner met Auston Matthews it was in an elevator in Helsini at the 2016 world juniors. That was before the Maple Leafs drafted the Arizona-born center. At the time, Marner just said hi.
However, it wasn’t as if Marner didn’t know about his now inseparable partner. In fact, Marner recalled that during 2016, the Maple Leafs were “one or two in possibly getting the (first overall) pick.” It wasn’t a strong team, but Marner knew Matthews was looming as a potential future teammate.
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Then, on Draft night after the Maple Leafs chose Matthews with the team’s lottery pick, Marner was at a concert at Budweiser Stage and, as he notes, “when we picked him, everyone started an Auston Matthews chant, and the kid I was, and amped still, I was in the middle of it and chanting as well.”
Marner has told Matthews that story a couple of times, and they laugh about it now. You can hear Marner retell that incident and more in the video below.
Marner and Matthews Get to Know Each Other: PlayStation Was Involved
As Marner notes, he started to know Matthews better later in 2016 when “I got to sit down and actually talk with him.”
But it wasn’t just Matthews who was part of that early group. Marner noted that “I remember it was a lot of fun meeting him and Adam Brooks and Tye Felhaber, we had a great time all four of us, we really connected well, we played a lot of games, I brought my PlayStation, so we were playing NBA and really anything on PlayStation.” [By the way, Brooks is now in and out of the Maple Leafs’ lineup and Felhaber currently plays for the AHL’s Texas Stars.]
After that, Marner noted, “We’d always go back to our rooms and hang out. That was the first time we all got together and kind of bonded from there.”
Matthews and Marner’s Bond Has Grown Since Those Days
As noted, Matthews became the Maple Leafs’ first draft choice in 2016. At the NHL Entry Draft the year before, Marner held that honor when the team picked him fourth overall. Today, these two players are not only the stars of the team, but they are true NHL stars as well. Marner is currently ranked fourth in NHL scoring with 67 points in 54 games, and Matthews is right behind at 65 points in 50 games.
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Their careers – together – have skyrocketed. With this season’s scoring prowess, Marner has moved his career average to just over a point-a-game pace with 358 points in 354 career games. After his first season, Matthews has been playing at better than a-point-a-game pace each season, and now has scored 350 points in 332 games.
Furthermore, as the two have matured together as players, the two-way aspects of their games have improved tremendously. Marner’s reputation probably grew in that aspect before his partner’s; however, this season there’s been talk about Matthews possibly winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. They are both that good as defensive players.
This season, Matthews is by far the NHL’s leading goal-scorer with 40 and leads the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid by seven goals; and, Marner has assisted on 25 of Matthews’ goals. That makes the twosome perhaps the most potent NHL duo of line-mates now playing together.
As Matthews and Marner Have Matured as Players, Their Roles Have Changed
Since new head coach Sheldon Keefe put them together on the same line in one his first moves when he took over the Maple Leafs’ helm in November 2019, they’ve had great chemistry. They simply produce – night after night – together.
These days, Maple Leafs’ fans typically think of Matthews as the goal-scorer and Marner as the play-maker. However, it wasn’t always that way. In a recent news article, Marner spoke about his transition from a pure goal scorer to more of a set-up guy.
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Marner noted that, “I think, growing up, honestly I was more of a goal scorer and, kind of throughout time, I think it just started coming to my mind that I wanted to start making plays … always looking for that pass.” (from “The chants came before the actual meeting in Mitch Marner-Auston Matthews relationship,” Mark Zwolinski, Toronto Star, 07/05/21).
Is There a Chance Coach Keefe Might Break Up This Twosome?
Zwolinski’s article did note that Keefe did think about shuffling the team’s core four – perhaps breaking up the Matthews-Marner duo or shuffling the partnerships with John Tavares and William Nylander. But, as Keefe noted, he didn’t think about it for a long time.
Keefe noted that he thinks “there’s been such chemistry between (Matthews and Marner), and it brings some real consistency in terms of offence to our team.”
In addition, thinking as a coach, Keefe shared that “It really causes a lot of problems for the opposition, what they have to think about.”
Keefe believes in the power of on-ice chemistry and reports that he’s been “focusing on trying to work with the pairs of Auston and Mitch, and Will and John. I just felt comfortable with the chemistry of those pairs. Even if I went away from it for a little bit, it would never be anything permanent.”
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Keefe will get no argument from Maple Leafs’ fans that the chemistry between Matthews and Marner is obvious. And, perhaps those early PlayStation days were a big part of it.