Home » Marner's instincts, hockey IQ bringing more than just a pile of points for Maple Leafs

Marner's instincts, hockey IQ bringing more than just a pile of points for Maple Leafs

by 100IQ Win The Knowledge


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Mitch Marner, complete hockey player.

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Or, as Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter referred to the Maple Leafs star last week, the whole package.

Marner’s offensive skills have been obvious for years, coming to the fore in his final two seasons with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, when the Markham native amassed 242 points.

The fourth pick overall by the Leafs in 2016, Marner hit the 400-point milestone on Monday night in Toronto’s win against the expansion Seattle Kraken, continuing an eye-popping run since Jan. 15, when he returned to the lineup after serving time in COVID protocol.

With Sidney Crosby and the rest of the difficult Pittsburgh Penguins up next for the Leafs on Thursday night in Scotiabank Arena, which will have 50% fan capacity, Marner will look to build on his past 11 games, during which he has recorded 22 points (11 goals and 11 assists).

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When Sutter made his observation before the Flames and Leafs met last Thursday, he also figured Marner doesn’t get enough credit for his full game.

Certainly, Marner does in the Leafs dressing room, which is what matters most.

“I don’t know if I would say he has made steps because I think he’s always been that,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said after practice on Wednesday, when asked where Marner has grown on the defensive side.

“When I took over (from Mike Babcock in November 2019), he was already killing penalties, he was already the guy out late in games. As you to continue to get more experience, as you get older the league, I think you refine those abilities, but he’s always been that guy.

“I wouldn’t want to say that he’s made steps since then. He just continues to realize that it’s an important part of the game. He’s counted on in those situations and he needs to take it seriously, and he does.”

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The play that Marner made in Seattle, when he dropped the puck to David Kampf for a shorthanded goal after drawing a defender on a solo rush, was referenced by John Tavares after the Leafs’ quick workout at the Ford Performance Centre when the captain spoke about Marner’s play without the puck.

“Those same reads and instincts he has defensively, and understanding the game and the opponents and being able to see plays develop and where to go,” Tavares said. “He’s able to anticipate, break up plays, intercept pucks. He knows he’s not going to go into battles with guys that have 30-40 pounds or a couple feet on him and expect to out-muscle them.

“He has really found his hockey sense and his knowledge. He has ability to be deceptive with it, to disguise it, where he’s able to take advantage and read the play and angle guys into no time and space, and being able to see the play two, three steps ahead.”

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Marner’s 17 goals last season at five-on-five were tied for fourth-most in the NHL. His penalty-killing instincts helped the Leafs get to sixth overall prior to games on Wednesday; only Kampf, among Leafs forwards, spends more time on a per-game basis on the ice than Marner when the team is shorthanded.

Has Keefe coached a smarter player, hockey-IQ wise, than Marner?

“Probably not,” Keefe said. “Sometimes you can coach really smart players, but they don’t have the abilities to act on that intelligence, so there’s a gap there. When you get a player who has both, you end up with Mitch Marner.”

Marner might be the first to tell you he can be a more impactful performer in the playoffs, considering the Leafs’ string of first-round exits, though he does have 25 points in 32 post-season games. Given the way he has performed for the Leafs in the regular season, it’s no surprise that the playoffs bar would be set so high.

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The goal is the same each time Marner goes over the boards for his next shift. That opposing NHL coaches and teams are taking note means Marner is reaching that goal on most nights.

“It’s pretty cool to hear, with his accolades, everything (Sutter) has done in the NHL,” Marner said. “I just try to go out there every night and try to provide offence and be responsible on the defensive side of that puck as well. I just want to be called upon and relied upon.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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