Marner: best player on the ice

He is merely 20 games into his first year as a rookie with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is (generously) listed as 5’10” and 170 lbs. He is not the fastest skater on the ice, nor has he got the hardest shot. Yet Mitch Marner is fast becoming one of his team’s on-ice leaders – and one of the most exciting players in the world.

In last night’s 4-2 Maple Leafs win over the Washington Capitals, Marner didn’t just outplay Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin (a onetime contender for best player in the world status himself) – he dominated everyone on the ice in a bravura performance of skill and vision.

Marner set up the Leafs’ first two goals. His every shift generated a buzz – close chances at the net, subtle touches on the puck, no-look feeds to teammates in scoring positions. The picture below was taken at the end of a stretch during which Marner held the puck for 15 seconds, circling the net and drawing three Washington defenders before slipping the puck across the slot to the unmarked Tyler Bozak. Only an unlucky bounce prevented a Leaf goal and a third point for #16.

The obvious comparison here is Blackhawks star Patrick Kane – himself a smaller player who nonetheless dominates many games, mysteriously creating space and time for himself and consistently wrongfooting opponents by doing the unexpected. As a rookie, Marner is already operating in the same way, drawing praise and major even-strength and power play minutes from Leafs coach Mike Babcock. Despite the presence of established scorers like James van Riemsdyk and emerging stars Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews, Babcock seems to be building the Leafs’ PP around the dynamic playmaking of Marner.

Now tied for the NHL’s rookie scoring lead, Marner has surely put himself into the Calder Trophy conversation. Three-quarters of the NHL schedule still awaits, but at this point at least, Mitch Marner is looking stronger every game.

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