Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner Can Still Have a Career Year

Before the season started, we predicted that Mitch Marner would have a career season in 2021-22. Well, so far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, he won’t even play in tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche because he’s tested positive and has entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. 

But that hasn’t been his only issue on the season. A freak practice run-in (literally) with his friend and teammate Jake Muzzin put Marner on LTIR and he wasn’t able to return until January 1, 2022. 

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Even before that, Marner had not even been keeping up with the point-a-game pace that he’d established over the past few seasons. However, we believe that he can still have a career season. In this post, we’ll share why.

Our Offseason Predictions About Marner

In our earlier post from June, we wrote that Marner was a smart player with exceptional vision. He’s also a hard worker who, we believed, would internalize the criticism he’d received during the past few seasons and channel it into an internal drive to make himself better. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We both believed he’d play better next season than he had during the past. At the time we wrote that post, we envisioned that both Auston Matthews and Marner would sit with the coaching staff and Sheldon Keefe before the season started to watch film and work collaboratively to figure out what they could do as a duo to overcome their opponents’ defensive efforts. 

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We both believed they were smart enough and driven enough to do so. They certainly are confident enough to believe in themselves and willful enough to make it happen. Those are the kind of attributes we believed any team’s stars should possess. We saw both Marner and Matthews as angry, frustrated, driven, and skilled. Those characteristics, we believed, would be leveraged into a better season and postseason.

So Far, the Team Has Been Better than Expected, But Not Marner

To this point, things haven’t gone as expected in two ways. First, and we believe most Maple Leafs’ fans will admit it, there was skepticism about the ability of this year’s team to win before the season started. That skepticism has been replaced with confidence the team could make the playoffs. Yet, the skepticism and pessimism that haunts all Maple Leafs’ fans about the postseason haven’t dissipated. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Second, we believed Marner would have a better season than he has. Perhaps, he got caught up in the team’s slow start. Perhaps it was the injury. But, for sure, Marner’s season hasn’t gone as well as most would have predicted.

Marner’s 2021-22 Regular Season Thus Far

Here’s a breakdown of Marner’s season to date. 

First, Marner only managed a single point through his first seven games, an assist on a William Nylander goal in a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on October 13. He also was a minus-4 in those games. During the team’s 5 – 3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on October 22, he was minus-3. 

Second, Marner then caught fire. He scored 12 points (three goals and nine assists) in his next five games. The team won all five. In the process, Marner registered a four-point night during a 5–3 win over the Boston Bruins on November 6. 

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Third, Marner then produced eight points over his next 11 games. After 24 games, he sat with six goals and 15 assists (for 21 points) in those 24 games. 

Fourth, as noted earlier in the post, on December 3 Marner was involved in the collision with Muzzin. The resulting injury put Marner on the LTIR, where he missed six games. He returned to action on January 1 but has since been scoreless in two games. 

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Fifth, yesterday Marner received news that both he and Pierre Engvall tested positive for Covid-19. Both were then placed on five-day COVID-19 NHL’s protocol, which means they’ll miss the next three games against the Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Arizona Coyotes. 

Where Marner Will Stand After the Maple Leafs’ Game in Arizona

Following the Maple Leafs’ game in Arizona, after 35 games Marner would have missed nine games due to injury and COVID. Thus far, he’s scored at a pace that would give him 17 goals, 42 assists, and 59 points by the end of the season if he stayed healthy. That would make the 2021-22 regular season the worst season of Marner’s career. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner celebrates with teammate Morgan Rielly (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill)

Seeing that Marner has averaged over a point a game (1.13 to be exact) over the past three seasons, we fully expect he’ll get healthy and improve upon his projected goal and point totals before the season ends. He is too talented not to. However, needless to say, this season hasn’t gone as well as any of us might have predicted – and that probably includes Marner himself.

Why That All Might Not Matter

But, here’s the thing. Marner’s poor regular-season numbers will not matter if his performance in May, and possibly June, this year improves and he helps carry his team through the playoffs. As most Maple Leafs’ fans will tell you, the success of this team will be judged solely on its playoff performance. 

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For this to be a career season, Mitch Marner will have to be at his best during the postseason. If he is able to put it together then – when it counts the most for Maple Leafs’ fans – the rest of the season will have been made meaningless.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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