It’s seems that every year – at least for the past few seasons – the OHL’s London Knights and head coach Dale Hunter spit out handfuls of NHL first round picks. This season that role enveloped forward Mitch Marner.
Finishing second in the OHL’s regular season scoring race with 126 points (44g-82a) in just 63 games, Marner is a sure bet to go in the top ten at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But who’s the most likely to take the small forward from Thornhill, Ontario?
While there will be numerous teams eyeing the right winger, there are two clubs that could be front runners in drafting Marner – two teams that could have the right guys in place to develop the young forward. Both, are franchises currently sitting in the bottom four of the NHL standings.
From Hunter to Hunter, Reuniting With Mark
While it will depend on the draft lottery, and the availability of other players when their team is called to the table, the Toronto Maple Leafs could be a perfect landing spot for the London Knights’ forward.
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) February 26, 2015
Sure, the Leafs are in the market for a solid centre that can step in as a number one in the years to come, but how do you turn down a speedy scoring winger like Marner? You can’t.
On top of that, the Leafs brought in Mark Hunter earlier this year as the director of player personnel – a move that many say is one of the best by the franchise in some time.
“Best hire the Leafs have made,” said Knights goalie coach Bill Dark in a piece by Sportsnet’s Damien Cox. “He understands hockey from every different angle.”
But it isn’t just former employees and members of the London franchise that expressed their praise for the member of the Leafs front office.
“He works hard and he’s all over the place,” said Warren Rychel, the GM for the Windsor Spitfires, in the Cox article. “When we started in Windsor we had to find a way to get to the level he was at.”
Now aside from spitting out a number of NHL stars – Rick Nash and Patrick Kane among others – Mark Hunter has a history with Marner. Drafted by the Knights, Marner played for the Hunter brothers in 2013-14 and under their development team until Mark’s departure from the team.
There’s no chemistry with possible teammates in Toronto – at least not yet – but there is a relationship with the director of player personnel and that could play a role in the development of the small forward.
While size could be an issue for Marner, the importance of that particular attribute is changing in the NHL and he could be a strong addition to a Toronto franchise that is looking to find their offence after a dismal second half of the 2014-15 season.
Marner: Finding Chemistry in the Desert
The other franchise that could consider Marner as a top four picks in the upcoming draft is the Arizona Coyotes. While they’re in the running for either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, there remains potential for their pick to drop to number three.
So, why not think ahead to the future? If the Coyotes did indeed draft Marner, that would mark the second year in the last three the team drafted a London Knight in the first round. Grabbing Marner would also give them the option of pairing him up with current teammate Max Domi – providing the team with some existing chemistry.
Now, certainly Marner isn’t a favourite to be taken by the Coyotes with their top-three pick. But it wouldn’t be the worst pick by a team looking for anything to spark offence and build for the future.
In fact, one analyst explains how Marner has an innate ability to read the game and beat players one-on-one.
“Combine skill, smarts and confidence and you have Mitch. An excellent playmaker who can make plays in and through the tightest of spaces. Very elusive with his skating but can attack and beat defenders one-on-one. He sees plays unfolding and is very comfortable holding the puck to allow them to develop. Plays with an assuredness that is threatening and he doesn’t take a ‘back seat’ in the game.”
– Craig Button, TSN’s Director of Scouting
While Marner is projected in the five or six slot in the draft, his performance this season could garner some more consideration with the third or fourth picks. Yes he’s a small guy, but as Button explains, he’s got skill and vision worthy of a top five pick.
For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his THW column at @Tape2TapeTHW.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.