In early October, in front of a sold-out Air Canada Centre, a 19-year old made his presence felt against a strong Boston Bruins squad. Moving at full speed in stride, GTHL Alumni Mitch Marner broke down the right wing with only Bruins defenceman Brandon Carlo positioned between him and goaltender. After unleashing a wicked wrist shot, the rookie forward was celebrating his first NHL goal along the boards with his new teammates.
The Toronto Maple Leafs current youth movement has seen a lot of new dynamic players coming into their own – and quickly. GTHL Alumni Zack Hyman, Mitch Marner, and Connor Brown, in addition to Auston Matthews and William Nylander, all now bear the weight provided by a fan base starved for success after a painful decade of mediocrity.
Eleven games into the 82-game marathon of a season, Marner has recorded three goals and five assists, tied alongside fellow London Knights alumni Nazem Kadri. At his current pace, Marner could crack the 50-point mark during his rookie NHL season – a remarkable feat for any player.
Marner grew up the youngest in his family, with his older brother Christopher being a strong presence and role model for him. Playing together over their childhood, Mitch cherished the memories of playing hockey around the house.
“Mini-sticks always would get a little heated growing up but never anything too crazy. Christopher was just always a guy that looked out for me no matter what happened and he’s always been there for me. He’s the brother everyone wanted to have and I was lucky enough to have him.”.
Just over four years ago, Marner was playing in arenas across the GTA as a member of the Vaughan Kings and the Don Mills Flyers. As an underager, Marner helped lead his Vaughan Kings Minor Midget AAA team to a GTHL championship. The following season, playing alongside his own 1997 age group with the Don Mills Flyers, Marner posted 86 points in 56 games. Reflecting on his minor hockey years, Marner elaborated on what made them so memorable.
“With Vaughan, winning the GTHL Championship was pretty fun, just reacting with the guys and building friendships from that and still having those friendships made it a pretty fun time of hockey for me,” he said.
His impressive season with the Flyers ultimately caught the eye of the London Knights who drafted Marner 19th overall at the 2013 OHL Draft. Playing alongside Don Mills graduate Max Domi, the Knights earned themselves a place in the playoffs and, by being hosts, a spot in the Memorial Cup. Marner finished second in rookie scoring for the 2013-2014 OHL season.
After winning a Memorial Cup last season with the Knights, and seemingly nearly every single other major award the league had to offer, Marner is now settling into his rookie season in the NHL.
A GTHL championship, a Memorial Cup championship, these accomplishments had a lot of work go into them on Marner’s part.
“Obviously, you’ve got to have a bit of luck on your side for anything but you want to work as hard as you can at anything you do and that’s what I try to do,” said Marner of his work ethic.
The obvious next step will be for Marner to help the Leafs to a Stanley Cup championship, ending the team’s 50-year drought – a goal the team is building towards, that starts with playing hard, consistent hockey in the regular season.
Tuesdays win against the Oilers, and the full two points that came along with it, isn’t lost upon the rookie-laden Leafs who have had loads of trouble closing out games early on this year.
“It’s impressive, giving up the goal there in the third period our bench didn’t get over that one, but we were still high energy out there, we knew we could win and no one gave up and we bounced back there in the OT,” said Marner. Hopefully we can continue to do that the rest of the year,” said Marner. “We’re always ready to play, we know what kind of team we are. We’re fast and move the puck really well and we know we just need to continue to play like that every night.”