Chosen fourth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Mitch Marner wasn’t rushed into the NHL like past Toronto Maple Leafs prospects. Instead, Marner spent an additional year in the OHL after being drafted, taking home the Memorial Cup, OHL Playoff MVP, and Memorial Cup MVP trophies in the process.
It’s clear after Marner’s NHL rookie season that the extra year spent in the OHL paid off in his development. It gave Marner that much more confidence and allowed him to join the Maple Leafs in the next step in their rebuild. Joining the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, and Nikita Zaitsev, these rookies went on to play key roles with the Leafs all season long.
Rookie Season Comparisons
As the 2016-17 season comes to a close, we look back on a Maple Leafs season that has been nothing short of a success. With multiple rookies contributing at an elite level, the thought that always comes to mind is “what are these rookies’ potential?” To get somewhat of a vague idea, I have taken some elite NHL players’ rookie seasons similar to Marner’s and compared them.
The closest comparisons to Marner in terms of playing styles would have to be Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau, being that they’re all highly-skilled small wingers. Nicklas Backstrom was included strictly due to a close point-per-game comparison, not because of playing style.
As you can see, Marner’s play has put him in the same category as these elite NHL players. This isn’t about Marner being as good as Kane, but their rookie numbers are similar. Being placed right in the middle of Kane and Gaudreau in terms of rookie PPG is very impressive. These players are amongst the best in the NHL, which shows the kind of direction Marner is headed after his impressive rookie season.
Marner Drives His Veteran Line
Before Marner, there was another highly-skilled winger playing in the same role: Phil Kessel. The former 30-goal-scorer for the Leafs was the player who used to drive the line with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak until a trade placed him on the Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 2016-17 season saw the addition of Marner, who seems to provide that same spark to the van Riemsdyk and Bozak line, pushing them forward and providing further offensive creativity.
You're not likely to see Matthews and Marner continue playing together. The #leafs believe each rookie can drive a line on his own.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 20, 2016
Leafs fans everywhere dream about the line combination of Matthews and Marner, but Marner has been driving his own line of two veterans. The former London Knight offers a creative punch to the line and provides great vision on the power play, filling a key role for the Leafs.
Breaking a Leafs Rookie Record
In a year where multiple Maple Leafs rookie records were broken, Marner had to get his name in the team record books too. His secondary assist on a van Riemsdyk goal against the Nashville Predators was his 41st of the season. With that, he passed Gus Bodnar, who recorded 40 assists in the 1933-34 season.
With the assist, Mitch Marner picks up the franchise rookie assists record. 41. Passes Gus Bodnar who had 40.
— David Alter (@dalter) March 31, 2017
Marner currently boasts a team-leading 42 assists, along with 19 goals for a total of 61 points. With two games remaining, he could become the fifth Leaf to hit 20 goals this season. Known more for his playmaking, Marner can still score, even with highlight-reel goals that can rival that of Kane from the Blackhawks.
Last night Mitch Marner gave Patrick Kane a run for goal of the year with this absolute #beauty dangle. pic.twitter.com/UeGWBJqk7O
— Tim and Sid (@timandsid) November 18, 2016
His diverse skill set allows him to thrive despite a smaller frame. Marner’s size was the main concern heading into this season, and he proved all the doubters wrong. The Ontario native rarely gets hit because he has learned how to avoid them while still actively participating in forechecking. He can be often seen spinning off players, making various twists and turns to avoid contact, freeing up plenty of space to create offence.
Marner’s rookie season has been nothing short of fantastic. He has passed every expectation set for him at the beginning of the season. This is the type of player you build a franchise around. Now the only goal left to accomplish is to guide the Leafs towards their first playoff birth since the 2012-13 season.