3 Reasons Maple Leafs’ Marner Will Have a Breakout Season

Since his rookie season in 2016-17, Toronto Maple Leaf Mitch Marner has been on an upward trajectory in offensive production. Each full NHL season has seen him steadily increase his point totals, starting with a 61-point rookie campaign to a career-high 99 points in 2022-23. During any regular season that wasn’t shortened by the pandemic, Marner has put up better numbers. 

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It shouldn’t be a surprise. Marner has a high hockey IQ and has been dedicated to improving his skills to make a more significant impact.

Marner’s Consistent Regular-Season Point Production

Marner’s development has been marked by consistently improving point production. Each season he’s elevated his offensive production just a little bit higher. As he’s done so, he’s become a top-tier offensive player in the NHL.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The transition from 61 points to 99 points in just six seasons shows his ability to both grow with his team and adapt to the game’s challenges. I’m willing to bet that this season he sees an opportunity and a need (from what I believe is his perspective) to increase his production even more. 

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My prediction is that, instead of inching forward, Marner — even though he scored 99 points last season — will increase that number by at least 10 percent to end up between 110 and 120 points by the end of 2023-24.

Marner’s Playoff Performance

Marner’s postseason performances have also been better than he’s been given credit for. He’s growing in his ability to thrive under postseason pressure. Although in this post, I’ll talk about the regular season, it’s worth noting that Marner has picked up his game in all areas.

His 14 points in 11 playoff games in 2022-23 further suggest he’s a clutch player who makes a playoff difference. 

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While critics point out that Marner wilted against the Florida Panthers in the second round of the 2023 Playoffs, so did everyone else against the wall that Panthers’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky threw up.

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Until Bobrovsky allowed three goals in the Panthers’ final game in their series sweep of the Hurricanes, since Game 1 of the second round against the Maple Leafs, Bobrovsky did not allow more than two goals in any game, saving 296 of 309 shots. To blame Marner in the wake of such an unworldly “goalie-on-fire” postseason aberration seems more than a bit illogical.

Marner is Versatile and Plays a Balanced Game

What makes a breakout season for Marner even more possible is his well-rounded game. He’s become more than just a playmaker, he’s also a consistent goal-scorer, making him an offensive threat capable of taking advantage of every situation to capitalize on offensive chances.

Three Reasons He’ll Have a Breakout Season

In the following part of the post, I’ll share what I believe are the main reasons he’ll have an especially strong 2023-24 regular season.

Reason No. 1: Bertuzzi as a Linemate

While I was a great Michael Bunting fan, his departure and the addition of Tyler Bertuzzi present a unique opportunity for Marner. Assuming Bertuzzi moves to the first line to play with Matthews and Marner, that first line will be the strongest it’s been since I have been covering the Maple Leafs. 

Tyler Bertuzzi Detroit Red Wings
Tyler Bertuzzi, when he was with the Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bertuzzi’s proven goal-scoring ability will create more chances for Marner to increase his assist total from last season’s 69. Look for him to average an assist a game. 

Marner could also see new levels of offensive production and set up his new linemate for a huge next contract. Bertuzzi’s best NHL season was in 2021-22 with the Detroit Red Wings when he played 68 games and scored 30 goals and added 32 assists (for 62 points). 

Related: Maple Leafs Can Expect a Breakout From Bertuzzi This Season

Assuming Bertuzzi and Marner can generate any kind of chemistry, Marner could fly past the coveted 100-point mark and Bertuzzi could average a point per game for the Maple Leafs. Both should have standout seasons.

Reason No. 2: Marner Sees a Selke in His Future

The retirement of the perennial Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron also presents a unique opportunity for Marner. While this summer’s slew of weddings (including his own) might have helped solidify Marner’s reputation as a party animal and a good-time guy, make no mistake, he is both driven and competitive.

He’ll see a chance to shine on the Selke stage. He knows the award is about more than honing one’s defensive skills. Bergeron’s retirement will serve as a powerful driver for Marner toward greatness. 

Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As Marner works to prove his worth as a top-tier defensive forward, he’ll also work to elevate his offensive game. That’s why I think Marner’s upcoming season will make him one of the top players in the NHL.

Reason No. 3: Marner Will Be Pushing for a Contract Extension

Marner’s previous contract negotiations were contentious, to say the least. One of the ploys his agent used was to claim that Marner was every bit as good as Auston Matthews and should be given the same amount of money. While, in the end, he settled for less than Matthews, it wasn’t that much less.

Look for Marner’s camp to use a similar strategy during his next negotiations. One difference between then and now is that Matthews has scored 60 goals since they both signed their last contracts. In this contract-extension season, he’ll want to prove he’s on par with Matthews.

Mitch Marner Mark Giordano Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner and Mark Giordano, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matthews will likely sign his new contract before Marner does and rumors suggest it could be the highest in the NHL.

Related: Revisiting Maple Leafs & Marner’s 2019 Contract Negotiations

Comparing himself to Matthews was the litmus test for Marner’s previous contract negotiations. This pattern will continue. If Matthews signs for $13.5 million, the benchmark will be set for Marner’s negotiation.

Marner Is on the Cusp of a Huge 2023-24 Regular Season

For the reasons I’ve outlined here, fans should look for Marner’s 2023-24 season to be the most pivotal of his career. From what I’ve seen, Marner is by far the most competitive player on the Maple Leafs, and he simply will not miss this chance to prove his value. To stay in the same ballpark as his friend and linemate Matthews, he’s going to have to score a ton of points, and I’m not betting against him.

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