Welcome to the main content you will be seeing on this very site for the next month and a half. With the New Jersey Devils missing the playoffs, a significant portion of the organization's time will be spent preparing for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. As junior leagues wrap up their playoffs, scouts will wrap up their reports, get ready for the combine, and then work on their own lists that could become the next member of the organization. Therefore, it's in our best interest as fans to get as knowledgeable about potential Devils draft picks in all rounds - we're not just concerned about the #6 pick - and so we have these posts. We collect what's out there about the player from stats to scouting reports, quote parts of it in the hopes that you go there and read the rest, give you our opinion based on that, and then you can have your say about the prospect.
I will be kicking off this year's series of profiles with a name that some Devils fans are making all kinds of divine pleas that he will be available at sixth overall: Mitch Marner.
Who is Mitch Marner?
Some call him Mitchell, some call him Mitch, and pretty much everyone who plays against the London Knights says "Look out for #93." Marner was born on May 5, 1997 in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada. He was drafted by London in the first round of the 2013 OHL Priority Draft and immediately made the team as a 16-year old. He did not just get into games, but he was seen on the scoresheet more than just a handful of times. In his 17-year old season, the one that just concluded, Marner went from prospective impact player at the junior level to a massive impact player at the junior level. The only thing that wasn't massive about Marner's 2013-14 campaign is his body. His player page at the OHL officially lists him at 5'11" and 164 pounds. Needless to say, he needs to put on weight. Other than that, his numbers at Elite Prospects show that he was overpowering defenses and goaltenders:
Going from 13 goals and 59 points as a 16-year old to 44 goals and 126 points as a 17-year old is evidence of a massive improvement. Those 126 points were second only to Dylan Strome for the OHL scoring lead. That's impressive on it's own. Thanks to CHL Stats, I can impress you further with his production. Marner was one of three players in the entire OHL to average at least two points per game; the other two were Connor McDavid (projected #1 overall pick) and Sam Bennett (only 11 OHL games, #4 overall in 2014). Marner finished tied for second with Strome with 44 goals, led the OHL in primary assists with 53, and his age-adjusted points per game rate was second only to McDavid at 1.88. Marner was a monster for London with 126 points in the regular season and 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in seven playoff games. The world got a taste of him at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial; I'm sure Team Canada is looking forward to seeing him at the U-20 level next season. Assuming his NHL team lets him go.
One more thing. Elite Prospects and Central Scouting Services lists him as a center, the OHL and others note he's been at right wing. He shoots right either way, but that positional difference is worth noting.
What Others Say About Mitch Marner
Get ready for a lot of praise. Which is what you'd want to see from a sure-fire top ten prospect in a draft class. Let's begin with this short blurb by Curtis Joe at his Elite Prospects page:
A dynamic offensive forward that backchecks hard and establishes his presence through playing smart, puck-possession hockey. A very quick skater gifted with great hands and hockey sense. Battles hard in all three zones and shows a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the puck to the back of the net; an unselfish player. Embodies the definition of a dynamic number-generating machine who makes the players around him better. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)
Brief as it is, this reads like everything a team would want in a prospective offensive forward, much less what the Devils absolutely, positively need. A more detailed report by Eldon MacDonald and Christopher Ralph at The Hockey Writers in March has further compliments and a nickname for Marner. More importantly (or worringly, depending on how you look at it), MacDonald thinks he could go as high as third overall in this draft. Here's what he wrote about his offensive skillset.
Offense: Elite, the works.
- Shot – Amazing release (sometimes it seems that it is just a flick), amazing wide variety of slappers and wristers, amazing decoys from any location.
- Passing – Becoming more of a shooter but still makes his teammates look pretty with his physical passing skills and his mental passing skills of knowing when, where and how to pass.
- Stickhandling – Adroit, adept; the deke, the dangle, the defense is left with only their imagination.
- Vision – Has the mental skills to do the what, where and how as required. His cerebral game is as good or better than his physical game.
- Puck protection – Top-end, a strength.
- Creativity – If you haven’t guessed it by now, Mitch will try just about anything and usually succeeds. He is at the very top end of the 2015 draft class for creativity with only Connor McDavid probably being slightly superior.
Four of those five points are justified by his point totals alone. One does not lead a league in primary assists or be one of three players to average two points per game without high-end shooting and passing traits. MacDonald also notes that Marner can do things on defense too. My reading from his profile is that's not really as notable as his offensive pluses. The comparison MacDonald kept bringing up is Patrick Kane. And why not? Kane was also a small-framed winger who scored a boatload of points before getting drafted.
MacDonald is not alone in his Kane comparable. Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports listed Marner as his #4 prospect in this draft class and mentions the Blackhawk winger in his profile. Kerr notes that Marner has played in all three forward positions and thinks wing suits him better than center. He also wrote that he may be bigger than his listed weight; the NHL combine may allay some fears about his small frame. This part of the profile stuck out to me the most, which is about Marner's game outside of attacking:
Mitch Marner is able to use his tenaciousness, his hockey sense, and his quick feet to be effective in his own end as well. His quickness, and his anticipation help him to shut down plays and create turnovers which are quickly transitioned into offensive chances. He is willing to block shots, and get in the way of passing lanes as well. Marner’s tenaciousness is a trait that extends to his own zone as he works to win battles along the boards and support his defence down low. Even as a 17-year old he is an important penalty killer for London.
This is very encouraging. When a scorer isn't scoring, he needs to be able to provide value in some other way. Otherwise that's how you end up with players like Michael Ryder. Marner actually working in his own end now suggests he will continue to do so at the next level, which is pretty much a requirement these days in the NHL. A one-dimensional player - again, like Ryder - is going to be limited if they can't contribute in some way in both ends.
Kerr finishes up the profile by comparing his skills to Kane but his tenaciousness to Brendan Gallagher, another small-framed but burgeoning forward. As much as I want to give Kerr the last word, I won't. McKeen's Hockey has this article on Marner, which includes a scouting report by David Burstyn. It goes into more detail in how he was used in London in this past season. Keep in mind he managed to keep producing no matter who he played with. Neither McKean's or Burstyn drop Kane's name as a point of comparison, but they do use two others that you'll appreciate. Here's a snippet of Burstyn's profile:
...not a selfish player as he readily dishes off the puck not a physical player and relatively small in stature as he continues to grow and expand into his 5’11, 165 pound frame however his self-preservation and constant awareness to the developing play are sublime .. constantly peeks over his shoulder and knows where everyone is on the ice lends to him never being in a bad situation to get blindsided .. sky high potential as his game marries traits of both Jordan Eberle and even more, Claude Giroux – and will adapt well to the pro game despite size, and he is still growing.
Marner's 82 assists last season really speak to his selflessness, but I am highlighting this part for two reasons. First, the comparisons at the end are eyebrow-raising. Giroux and Eberle are serious offensive talents; if Marner reaches anywhere close to their levels, then whoever drafted him should be doing backflips. Second, I'm happy to read that he is not reckless. With his skill and speed, one has to wonder whether he's too focused on the play or making the next play that he could become a target of a big hit. As Marner is not a large player, the physical aspect is a concern. Again, this should allay those concerns. He'll still have to get stronger, but it's less likely he's going get to the next level with serious damage.
I will leave the last word with his profile by at NHL.com. Central Scouting Services ranked Marner sixth among North American skaters. Here's a quote from their director, Dan Marr:
"High end skill set with puck handling and playmaking ability. Plays bigger than his size and is not afraid to get involved in traffic or battle for pucks. He is an excellent skater with very good quickness and agility. He possesses some of the quickest hands in this year's draft class."
This is consistent with what the others had to say. Why they ranked him sixth among North American skaters instead of placing him any higher, I could not tell you. But I have a guess, which I'll go into detail after some video.
A Little Video
There are two videos of Marner actually playing the game of hockey that are worth your time. The first is this highlight video by bigwhite06. It includes every point Marner put up in the month of November, which is 32 in twelve games. Some additional clips from the end of October are included for five minutes and forty-two seconds of success by London's #93.
The second video is much longer but absolutely worth your time. It's from a user named HockeyPwns and this video certainly is. It's a cut-up of all of Marner's shifts in a London-Guelph game from this season. While the Knights smashed the Storm 11-1, Marner wasn't heavily featured on the scoresheet. Yet, you can see for yourself that what others wrote about Marner were based in this kind of reality. In this nearly nineteen minute video, you can see how well Marner reacts to his other teammates' movements, how quick he is, how good his passing is, and how he performs in his own end. He even throws a hit or two. This user doesn't have a lot of videos and I know cut-ups are rare for hockey prospects. So take the time to appreciate this one.
An Opinion of Sorts
The stats, the opinions of those who watched him play, and the videos of Mitch Marner point to the same conclusion: he's a fantastic forward prospect. If the Devils get the opportunity to draft him, then they absolutely should. The only real concern is his lack of size, but he's responsible enough to know where he is on the ice to avoid danger, he's quick enough to get out of danger, and the issue is more with his weight than his height. That's fixable and may be on it's way depending how he measures at the NHL Combine. The Devils have showed no aversion to that with past first round draft picks (e.g. Mattias Tedenby, Zach Parise). Marner oozes skill, he's responsible in his own end, and he showed that he's not a product of playing with Max Domi or Christian Dvorak. I'd almost go as far as to say that he would be a perfect for the Devils right now. There's no question he would be a wonderful pick at #6.
The better question is this: Would he be available at #6?
The way I am approaching this draft is that there is a clear set of top-tier prospects: McDavid, Eichel, and Hanifin. The Devils aren't getting those players short of a scandal. Marner, Dylan Strome, Matthew Barzal, Pavel Zacha, Lawson Crouse, and so forth are in a second tier, that would ordinarily be potential top picks in most other drafts. And Marner's ranking is not so much a function of anything wrong or undesirable in his game; it's a function of someone else being liked more for one reason or another.
In my mind, Strome is the only one in that group that I have no confidence would drop to #6. He's a 6'3", 185 pound center who led the OHL in scoring, which includes many games without Mr. McDavid. I don't see him dropping out of the top five. I am so confident in my lack of confidence that I took him off the list of profiles we have scheduled. But Marner? I'm grasping at straws, but the fact that rankings and mock drafts have somewhere between #3 and #6 made me feel a little more confident he's possibly available.
Based on what I've read and seen, I would say it's rather unlikely that New Jersey will get to pick him. The five teams ahead of them are not going to picky on talent and a top-scoring OHL player with seemingly all of the right attributes is right there for the taking. Again, it's not the height that makes him small but it's the weight and that can be addressed. I don't think too many teams will be put off by that. Nor will they be put off that he may be better suited at wing than center.
In any case, I'll reiterate what I said at the start of this opinion: he's a fantastic forward prospect. If he's available at sixth overall, then he would be a fantastic selection. Possibly the best one that they could make.
I reserve the right to change my mind on that as we do more profiles and the draft gets closer, but Marner is a prospect that directly addresses a lot of what the Devils need both in the system and in their professional ranks. Now that you've learned more about Marner, what do you think? Do you think he would be a great prospect for the Devils? What about him intrigues you the most? Do you think he'll even be available for the Devils at sixth overall? Please leave your answers, your other thoughts, and other findings on Marner in the comments. Thank you for reading.