Brooks Laich spoke to the media ahead of lining up next to Mitch Marner in the first game of preseason.
You’ve spoken last season and this season about how the young guys are making you veterans better. What’s it like to get a chance to play with Mitch tonight here against Ottawa?
Brooks Laich: I’m very excited. I saw a lot of what he did last year. I watched him closely, watched his game. I’ve been fortunate enough now to get to know him and play alongside him in the first couple of practices in training camp. He’s very calm and very poised with the puck. He makes nice, small players in tight, in traffic. He doesn’t get rushed with the puck. Very heady player and very shifty. I know a lot has been made about his size, but guys that are a little smaller are very shifty and they’re tough to hit and they’re tough to track. Great playmaker, has his head up. I’m just looking forward to getting into full game speed with him.
The ability to see the ice — is that a talent that’s innate?
Laich: Yeah, that’s one of the most special abilities in the game. All the best players end up making everyone on the ice better. Usually, that’s playmakers. They make everybody on the ice better. Mitch has those qualities. He’s going to distribute the puck. He always seems to be in the right area. For Colin [Greening] and I, we want to get the puck back. We have two big guys on the line. Get the puck back, we should have a net presence at all times. Also, give Mitch a little bit of room. He’s shifty, he’s crafty, he’s going to evade some checks. Also, we want to learn when we can set a little pick for him. Where does he want to roll on the ice in behind traffic? That sort of stuff. All little things that come with time, but he’s an exciting young player and I’m excited to play alongside him.
Is there a bittersweet element to training camp because you become friends with so many guys. There’s 70 guys in there, and only 23 are going to make it. How are you going to handle that type of competition level? You see friends get cut or not make it.
Laich: There are some guys you get more attached to than others. There are some guys you train with in the summer, and you want so bad for them to get a jersey. It’s never easy to see friends go down, but at the same time you want to get your team as soon as possible. We have a lot of guys at camp, and we’re thinking we’d love to get to our team as soon as possible so we can really find out who we are going to be playing with and what are our role is going to be, and start building some chemistry and some momentum heading into the season. All of that is out of our control. I’ve been through enough camps. I kind of just prepare myself and give myself an early heads-up on what the season might look like. I just make sure that I’m doing my job.
What is a good number of games for you [in preseason] just to get comfortable?
Laich: In DC, I used to tell our coaches that I’d like to play them all. I’m like that. When the Leafs play, I want to play. You want that to be your identity. When the team plays, you’re on the ice and you’re playing a certain brand of hockey. I know I am not going to play them all, but you want to start developing your habits again. In the summer, you can pick up bad habits of swinging and not stopping, not blocking pucks or shot blocking. Preseason is made to develop those habits so that when the season comes you are ready to compete and ready to win. I’d like to play them all. It’s probably not going to happen though.
With Mitch, it seems to me that he is a little bit sneaky fast. When he turns onto the offensive side, he’s just gone. Is that natural speed, or is it skating ability? Is it deceptive? It just seems like that.
Laich: A little bit of both. And sneakiness. I played with a guy in DC – Niklas Backstrom, who people could never seem to catch. Mitch is another guy like that, who – once they just get in front of you and get you on your hip – he is so good at the awareness of where players are that he can twist this way if your body moves this way, or he can twist that way. They just know where players are behind them, so they never get caught, and they look really fast. Mitch is also a very good skater. I think that’s something underrated about him. He’s going to be a heck of a player. I can’t wait to see what he can do.