Deep Dip: Mitchell Marner


With files from Thomas Drance. 

It wasn’t an easy decision.

Earlier today, it looked like Toronto had narrowed their prime targets down to London’s Mitchell Marner and Boston College’s Noah Hanifin. On one hand, Director of Player Personnel and former Knight Mark Hunter wanted to reunite himself with Marner. On the other, head coach Mike Babcock preferred that his new club build from the blueline out with Hanifin. More from the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle…

Some in Leafs management like pint-sized London Knights forward Mitch Marner. Others are fans of big Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin.
The two players have completely different skill sets, backgrounds and development curves, so weighing the pros and cons gets complicated. And members of the Leafs’ four-headed management team all have different ideas about what kind of player is most vital to a team that’s rebuilding.

Ultimately, the Leafs went with the winger.

A Very Impressive Draft Year

Marner was excellent for the London Knights this season, forming one of the most dangerous lines in the OHL (and probably all of the CHL) with Max Domi and Christian Dvorak. In 63 games, Marner scored 44 goals and 126 points, good for second in the league behind Erie’s Dylan Strome. In fact, Strome only passed Marner on the final night of the regular season with four goal, six point effort. I’m sure Marner would be quick to remind you that he played five fewer games than his friend and rival.

For his efforts, the scouts slotted Marner pretty high in their pre-draft rankings. McKeen’s and Corey Pronman ranked him 3rd, while Future Considerations had him 5th. NHL Central Scouting ranked him 6th amongst North American skaters, which is unusually low in relation to other scouting services.

The Right Choice

Taking Marner was probably the right choice. Not only was he the best player available according to TLN’s own draft rankings (we had Marner in 3rd), but there’s also some pretty significant evidence out there in the hockey analytics community that suggest taking high-end forwards early in the draft is more beneficial than their defensive counterparts. ESPN’s Corey Pronman recently cited this as a reason why both Marner and Strome should be drafted before Noah Hanifin, referencing Tom Awad’s work in Rob Vollman’s 2014 Hockey Abstract [Warning: Paywall]…

The even-strength effects of forwards are more pronounced at the top and bottom of performance levels than they are for defensemen. Good forwards elevate a team and bad ones crush a team, and the effect is more intense than that of their defensive counterparts.
This does not suggest that particular star defensemen don’t impact teams in a significant way — Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson come to mind — or that there are no black-hole defensemen in the NHL. But generally speaking, defensemen at the top of a team’s lineup impact their team much less than the top forwards on a team at even strength, and these differences remain even after adjusting for details like quality of competition and linemates.

It looks like both the Arizona Coyotes and Leafs agreed on this, taking Strome and Marner ahead of Noah Hanifin, who went fifth overall to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Scouting Reports

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 ..

McKeen’s Hockey


Marner is elusive
and won’t rush to make just any play; he calculates his options and shows patience when in possession. Passes are creative and right onto the tape of his target. He somehow sees
unthinkable passing lanes and executes perfectly. Has a rocket of a shot that he uses to
deceive goaltenders and picks his spots with no trouble. Defensively, he uses this speed
to separate from checks and to catch his man on the back check to break up the play and
turn the puck back up ice. Positions himself well on the penalty kill and jumps on loose
pucks to clear the zone. He will slide over to pick up any missed checks and support on the sides of the zone, showing strong defensive awareness.

Future Considerations


Marner had a fantastic 17-year-old season in the OHL, racking up an absurd amount of points. He’s a shifty player, and is tough for a defense to stop. His speed, acceleration and edge control are all high-end, and because of that, you rarely saw an OHL defenseman land a clean check on Marner. His puck skills are elite, and he can make great in-tight plays to evade pressure, dekes in full stride to get around a defender or puck plays off the half-boards that create offense in bunches.
Marner is also an incredible passer, making quick reads with the ability to stretch the ice or move it across laterally through traffic with consistency. While small, his defensive game is solid, and improved quite notably over the course of the OHL season to where he became one of London’s better penalty killers. He’s also quite an effective forechecker, not in terms of physical play, but rather how well he forces plays and is sneaky on takeaways.

ESPN’s Corey Pronman

Quotes from Marner

On being drafted by the Leafs…

“If you would’ve told me that he would’ve drafted me into (both) the NHL and the OHL… I wouldn’t have believed you. Weird things happen like this and it’s a special thing to happen. Obviously When I got up there I gave him a big hug, and said thank you and everything like that. He’s been with me ever since day one, drafted me, taken a risk on me, and there’s no way to put into words how much I thank him.”

On Mark Hunter tipping him off…

“No he was pretty bad on that. he was quiet all year to me, and that’s how Mark is. Always a quiet guy he likes to stick to himself.”

Other Leafs Picks…

Mitch Marner, 4th Overall

Travis Dermott, 34th Overall

Jeremy Bracco, 61st Overall

Andrew Neilsen, 65th Overall

Martins Dzierkals, 68th Overall

Jesper Lindgren, 95th Overall

Dmytro Timashov, 125th Overall

Stephen Desrocher, 155th Overall

Nikita Korostelev, 185th Overall

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