Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner
Photo: USA Today Sports

It was announced on Wednesday that Mitch Marner will represent Team Canada in his first ever IIHF World Championships, while Morgan Rielly has declined his offer.

On Tuesday, Rielly indicated he was interested in the opportunity but needed to meet with the Leafs‘ medical team for advice first. Rielly’s calendar year has been jam packed: Internationally, he played in the World Championships for Canada last May and in the World Cup for Team North America in September. That was followed by a condensed NHL regular season in which he led the Leafs in time-on-ice per game and battled through a high-ankle sprain sustained in January. He capped off his year with a first-round playoff series during which he took more shifts than any other player in the league.

No doubt at the recommendation of the sports science team, the decision has been made for Rielly to sit out the tournament, allowing for adequate rest prior to the start of off-season training.

Meanwhile, the news of Mitch Marner accepting his invitation was perhaps a little surprising considering Babcock told the media in his locker clean-out day interview that Marner was dealing with mononucleosis down the stretch. Presumably, he’s now fully recovered (and he’ll have a little time off, with the tournament starting May 5).

Leafs fans will be happy to watch one of their young stars compete against some of the best in the world now that the Leafs have been eliminated. It will be Marner’s first international appearance for Canada since the 2015 World Junior Championships, and obviously his first as a professional player.

Marner will join a Team Canada squad that has received commitments from Mark Scheifele, Claude Giroux, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Travis Konecny, Tyson Barrie and Jason Demers as of this writing.

Babcock receives Jack Adams nomination

It was also announced on Wednesday that Mike Babcock has been nominated for the Jack Adams award for coach of the year — an award he’s somehow never won before despite winning a Cup, making two additional Finals appearances, and qualifying for the playoffs in 12 out of his 14 seasons in the league.

In 2016-17, Babcock led an extremely young core of players to an overachieving season and an unexpected playoff appearance. The Leafs won 12 of their final 18 games to make the postseason for the first time since 2013 and followed it up with an impressive playoff showing against the Capitals in which they played the number-one seed just about as tight as possible over a six-game series.

All season, the Leafs played a fast and aggressive style of hockey that allowed them to use their speed and create a tonne offensively. They finished the year top five in almost every offensive metric and were widely regarded as the most exciting “must-watch” club in the league. In addition to their rookies adjusting quickly to the league and rewriting the franchise (and, in some cases, league) record books, Babcock got career years out of veterans Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Jake Gardiner. It all came together for a 26-point improvement over their 69-point, 30th-place finish in 2015-16.

The other two nominees for the Jack Adams award are John Tortorella and Todd McLellan, who (along with Babcock) certainly continue the trend of this award category favouring teams who managed unexpected seasons after low finishes the year prior. Tortorella led the Blue Jackets to a 108-point finish — good enough for third in the Metropolitan Division — a year after finishing with just 76 points. McLellan helped the Oilers to their first playoff appearance since 2005-06, finishing second in the Pacific with 103 points a year after finishing at the bottom of the Western Conference with 70 points.

CoachImprovement from 2015-16
McLellan33 points
Tortorella31 points
Babcock26 points

McLellan and Tortorella’s teams improved by more points and finished higher, but Babcock’s team began the year with the lowest expectations and had the most inexperienced roster of the three.

Marlies one win away from Round 2

The Marlies took a 2-1 series lead on Wednesday night after splitting the first two games of their best-of-five series against Albany.

Kasperi Kapanen returned to the AHL with a bang, recording five shots and two assists, including a beautiful no-look backhand pass on Brendan Leipsic’s first of the night:

Leipsic added a second goal to go along with four shots, while Travis Dermott also chipped in two assists and three shots on goal. All three look capable of pushing hard for spots on the opening night roster next season.

Colin Greening, playing center on the fourth line, scored the OT winner just 45 seconds into the first extra period. He gained the zone off of a nice pass by Justin Holl before wiring a wrister top corner for the win:

For much more on the Marlies win on Wednesday night, check out Mark Rackham’s Game 3 recap.