The Toronto Maple Leafs have drafted forward Mitch Marner with their fourth overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

It was the most predictable outcome: Marner was the consensus fourth best player available, has a long history with Leafs‘ draft czar Mark Hunter, and it fits the profile of a Leafs draft strategy emphasizing skill above all else (positional preference, size).

Let’s explore what the Leafs are getting in their new top prospect.


Mitch Marner Scouting Reports

McKeen’s Draft Guide (subscribe here):

Outstanding season only to be eclipsed as OHL scoring champ on the last night of the season after leading much of the year, despite missing 5 games to injury – recorded 32 multiple point games .. a highly skilled and intuitive offensive player whose game reading ability is off the charts – able to dance all over the ice and make plays both forward and backhand .. attacks the middle of the ice and is not afraid to go into danger zones .. elusive in his approach, spinning off guys and simply anticipating the game better than his peers .. displays an uncanny ability to create even more room for himself when he is down low .. habitually finds the best possible passing or shooting option – and deploying a hair trigger release .. an excellent stickhandler, slippery when entering the zone employing a series of head fakes with an upper body like a slinky – twisting and turning without losing stride or possession of the puck .. does not possess a prevailing gear however his stride is extremely efficient – maintains his speed the length of the ice and his shift .. great stamina, readily retreating back behind his own goal to make a heady defensive play, only to dart up ice in the same sequence .. protects the puck very well in all areas of the ice .. not a physical player and relatively small in stature as he continues to grow and expand into his 5’11, 160-pound frame, however his self-preservation and constant awareness to the developing play are sublime .. sky high potential as his game marries traits of both Jordan Eberle, and even more, Claude Giroux – and will adapt well to the pro game despite size, and he is still growing.

MLHS’ Alex Tran:

Incredible offensive talent – One of the most striking aspects about Marner’s game when I first saw him play is his tremendous calm and patience with the puck in the offensive zone. Where some players like Stamkos or Ovechkin display that dazzling speed and ferocity with the puck, Marner reminds me more of a John Tavares, who just seems to be casually gliding around playing shinny without a care in the world. That’s not a knock on him – he’s just that good. When the puck is on his stick, he seems to be able to just slow the game down and survey the ice to find a streaking teammate or pick the corner through a crowd. There’s no panic to his game. His ability to change pace, weave around defenders, make passes and pick corners provides him with an elite package of offensive skill.

Defensive play – While he gets most of his accolades for his ability to put the puck in the net, he offers a surprisingly effective two-way game. He is a pesky player in his own end, aggressive with his stick in the passing lanes and always a threat to force a turnover and turn it into a rush chance the other way. He did not shy away from big game situations, playing brilliantly in the OHL playoffs before succumbing to a head injury.

Size – It’s the usual critique here for players under 6’0. Marner could use some more time in the gym to continue adding core strength. Despite that, he’s already quite effective at protecting the puck while on the rush.
The Verdict

The Whole Package – Marner has every chance to be a franchise calibre forward around which you can build an elite scoring line. There are some concerns about ability to keep up with bigger, stronger forwards down the middle of the ice, so it is possible he could end up permanently on the wing. His vision and creativity in the offensive zone is unparalleled outside of Connor McDavid. He’s a responsible, well-coached kid and should be a perennial all-star in this league for many years to come. If I haven’t made myself quite clear yet, let me do so right now: In my books, Marner is the third best player in this draft and would be an excellent pick-up in the four spot.


Sheer Upside and Skill

What’s most exciting about this selection is that the Maple Leafs have picked up the player more than a few scouts have described as second to only Connor McDavid in terms of pure skill in this draft class.

It’s safe to say Marner is in the first overall conversation in a non-McEichel year.

“After Connor (McDavid), Mitch might be the most skilled player in the draft. Similar to Connor, it’s just the quickness in which he can process the game and execute plays. That really stands out in his favour.”
– NHL Central Scouting’s chief scout Dan Marr

This is a pretty common refrain within the amateur scouting community. McKeen’s Grant McCagg, in the McKeen’s Draft Guide, ranked Marner second to only McDavid in the following categories: Best Stickhandler, Best Hockey Sense, and Best Playmaker.

McCagg also ranked Marner fourth in character and lauded him for his, “big man’s determination in a small man’s body.” Marner has said he drew inspiration from the similarly-sized Doug Gilmour’s gumption when Gilmour was leading the Leafs in the early 90s, and some agree there’s at least a little something to the comparison.

I like to try to model my game after Patrick Kane; obviously, he’s a great player. I’ve heard a lot about Giroux, too, but another player I kind of want to model my game after is Gilmour. He was a guy I always looked up to when I was younger. When I was a young kid watching the Leafs, they were my hometown (team), he was a big name in my household. I want to grow up and be that kind of a player. I try and model my game now after Patrick Kane the most.
– Mitch Marner


Center or winger?

The big question now revolves around where Mitch Marner projects positionally at the NHL level.

From MLHS’ resident Knights season ticket holder, Knights2Leafs:

During his first 2 years I would say 95% of his time was playing on the wing. It really wasn’t until this year’s playoffs that he became a real center. Having said that, even though he wasn’t taking draws, when he was playing wing he worked quite a bit east and west and would often carry the puck in much like a center would. Similarly, when he was on the power play he would often possess the puck and move around as a center would.
He was actually really good on the draws when he did play center in the playoffs.
There is no doubt in my mind that next year Hunter will use him as a center and I like him there more than on the wing. Better able to use both wingers. Domi is a great passer as you have seen from videos but Marner is head and shoulders above him in terms of awareness of other players around him – both teammates and opposition.
 I
(Worth noting that Marner put up 16 points in 7 games during the playoffs)
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Marner may well play center full time for Dale Hunter next season, and this is something only time and development can ultimately decide.

There is no shortage of competing viewpoints on where Marner’s skillset better projects at the NHL level.

From Brock Otten in our Q&A at MLHS:

“Ultimately, I think Marner’s skill set makes him a better option on the wing. His ability to be the first man in on the forecheck, and create offense off the wall, is something all NHL wingers are asked to do now. Having a big center to play with, who can gain entry to the zone and who can let Marner utilize his speed coming down the wing, would be the ideal situation. As you mentioned, he is defensively responsible, so that’s not an issue. I think it has more to do with the way the NHL has evolved, with big guys playing down the middle and smaller, speedy guys on the wing. Obviously, Marner is quick enough and skilled enough to have a shot down the middle. But, as I said…I think his skill set would be best utilized on the wing.”

From NHL Central Scouting’s Dan Marr:

“He’s slight. That doesn’t necessarily preclude him from playing centre. That’s something that will be determined a couple of years from now. It certainly doesn’t impact his game because of his quickness and his smarts. He’s an elusive quick player. I don’t think he’s got any real holes to his game. The one thing with Mitch Marner, he’s a hard worker. He’s first up the ice, first one on the puck, but he’ll also be one the first coming back. Checking is just staying with your man. Mitch can check.”

Marner’s attention to defense has so often been described as underrated to the point where it’s now fairly common that his two-play is mentioned among his strengths, which doesn’t at all hurt his odds of playing center one day.

The other concern will be Marner’s size and durability. Of course, at 160 pounds, Marner would appear far from ready to make the jump in September and will almost definitely be left to try to (somehow) improve on last season’s ridiculous point totals in his +1 year in London. Knowing Leafs management’s public stance on being religiously patient with developing players, there is almost nothing Marner could do at camp that would see him play his way onto the Leafs full time in 2015-16, although it would be great if he looked so good it started a few conversations.

While it’s obvious Marner needs to add core strength and bulk, as almost all 18 year old prospects do, what’s most intriguing is the possibility of continued height growth. Marner’s brother stopped growing at age 22 and now stands at six foot two.

I really think that the size will come. It already has in a lot of ways obviously. His brother was really late growing as well. I don’t know if it’s going to be same thing. I think his brother is about 6’2, I saw him in the rink one day. I just think that Marner is so good that he’s one of those guys who can just play in the league even if he’s not the prototypical size. You got to figure, he’s a hair under 5’11, when he becomes a man so to speak, and I don’t think there’s a hair on his face still, he’ll bulk up and get strong enough. I’m not concerned about it, as our ranking says.
– Mark Edwards, Pipeline Show

If you wanted to be an optimist, you could say Marner adds an inch and 20 pounds (6’0, 180ish) and ends up being the true 1C the Leafs are dying for. That’s not something you can bank on at this stage, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.


The Big Picture

The addition to Mitch Marner to go along with William Nylander gives the Leafs’ prospect pool the high-end, first-line-potential offensive presence it has lacked for years. In terms of the upside, the sky is the limit in terms of their natural talent levels and skill repertoires. Star potential is present in both players.

The number one concern will be that the Leafs still may not have drafted (and the draft is where they almost always come from) their number one center of the future despite three top eight picks in the past four years (Rielly, Nylander, Marner). It’s possible one or both of Marner and Nylander develops into that center over time, although both would appear to project more safely onto the wing.

That is an attempt at guessing the future, though, and the hope is that the Leafs will have addressed this long-time need in some shape or form by the time the likes of Marner and Nylander are coming into their own  – whether it comes through this draft, a future draft, a trade, or internally in the form of one of Marner or Nylander themselves.

As for Noah Hanifin, if he pans out as a stud number-one defenceman, the Leafs will to some degree regret the choice. Inherently a high-end 1D holds more value than a high-end winger, even if Marner also pans out to his full potential. But from a draft strategy standpoint it’s tough to knock the decision, given defencemen are tougher to project at this age and great ones can more readily be found later in the draft than elite offensive talents can. Quite simply, we can identify an elite offensive talent at 18 far easier than we can an elite defenceman. And Mitch Marner’s offensive numbers are elite: He posted near point a game as an OHL rookie in 2013-14, and followed it up with an 126-point 63-game season as a 17-18 year old, the best points per game in the Ontario Hockey League this past season.

marnerstat

Those are numbers the Leafs, in the end, couldn’t say no to.


Mitch Marner Career Accomplishments

  • 1st Round Selection, 19th Overall, in the 2013 OHL Priority Draft
  • Previously played with the Don Mills Flyers Minor Midget AAA and the St. Michael’s Buzzers Jr. A
  • Won an OJHL Championship with St. Michael’s and silver medal in the OHL Gold Cup in 2012-13
  • Represented Ontario at the World U17 Tournament in January, 2014
  • Won London’s Peter Guertin Longshot and Rookie of the Year Awards in 2013-14
  • Won a gold medal with Canada in the 2014 U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament
  • Named Pioneer Energy OHL Player of the Week for the week of October 27th-November 2nd, 2014
  • Named CHL Player of the Week for the week of October 27th-November 2nd, 2014
  • First OHL Hat Trick on November 1st, 2014 vs. Windsor Spitfires
  • Represented the Ontario Hockey League at the Subway Super Series in November, 2014
  • Named Pioneer Energy OHL Player of the Week for the week of November 17th– 23rd, 2014
  • Named CHL Player of the Week for the week of November 17th-November 23rd, 2014
  • Named CHL Player of the Month for the month of November, 2014
  • Named Ryobi’s Hardest Working Forward in the month of November
  • Named Channer’s Player of the Month for the month of November
  • Represented Team Cherry at the CHL Prospect Game January 22, 2015
  • OHL Player of the Week February 16-22, 2015
  • Voted Western Conference’s Smartest Player
  • Finished the season as the London Knights Leading Scorer (2014-2015)
  • Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy Recipient (2014-2015)

Mitch Marner Statistics

 GPG1st Assist2nd AssistTotal PtsNHLeES PtsES PPGES Pts/60%ESTOITMPt%TMGl%%TGC
Marner6344532912649600.983.2630.20%46.84%16.36%13.07%

Glossary via CHLstats:
NHLe - The number of points the player would have scored if they were in the NHL this year. Translation factors are based on Rob Vollman’s research which currently sets the WHL and QMJHL as 0.26 while the OHL is 0.3.
TmGl% - Team’s Goals Percentage: What percentage of your goals account for the team’s goals in all games.
TmPt% - Team Point Percentage: what percentage your points account for all of the teams scoring. Currently is based on every goal scored by the team.
%ESTOI - Percentage of ES TOI: As we all teams do not play equal even-strength time per game we represent this as a percentage. Compares TOI for prospects without special teams adjusting the results.



Mitch Marner Video

Mitch Marner – Shift by Shift:

Mitch Marner – Highlights:

Mitch and Paul Marner on Hockey Parents:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTYeAfqQ1vE

Maple Leafs draft Mitch Marner 4th overall. 


 

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosts "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covers the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at alec.brownscombe@mapleleafshotstove.com.