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Mitch Marner might challenge his Maple Leafs teammate for the NHL’s rookie of the year

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have a young player that’s going to be really good for a long time. No, this isn’t about Auston Matthews.

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

If you had to choose between having a young player who could score great goals, or one who was a great playmaker, which would you choose? In the case of Mitchell Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs, they don't have to choose, because he's fantastic at both ends of the spectrum.

Goal Scoring

Marner’s first NHL goal showed off his pure scoring ability as he beat a goaltender clean.

To be honest, this goal reminds me of watching Phil Kessel coming down the wing.

You can see here, on the far left of the shot, that Marner was looking back towards the defensive zone to be ready for a pass, and he's ready to move with the puck.

The pass wasn’t great, but Marner took it without missing a beat.

He took a few quick strides, away from the Bruins defender.

Before the defender was able to get in the shooting lane, Marner let the shot fly.

Before the Bruins goalie knew it, the puck was past him and in the back of the net.

Marner’s next goal-scoring appearances came against the Buffalo Sabres, in a game when he scored twice.

His first goal in this game showed how easily skilled players can find pockets of space where they’re completely forgotten by the other players on the ice.

This play starts with the puck going into the corner, where Tyler Bozak goes to retrieve it. Marner starts to cut through the middle towards the opposite corner.

Bozak chips the puck past the defender to the open space where Marner is headed.

As Marner gets the puck, he heads away from the net briefly, and as you can see, all five Sabres players on the ice are focused on him and following him.

Marner dumps the puck backwards towards the net, where Bozak is waiting. As this happens, Marner circles back to the net himself, where the Sabres players who were just covering him seem to have forgotten about him.

Bozak makes a great net-front pass, where Marner has now broken even farther in on goal for an easy tap-in. How do you lose a player like that completely?

Marner’s second goal in this game was much different, but featured another instance of his ability to find space uncovered.

I honestly don’t know how players can be left so open on plays like this.

After a pinch along the half-wall by Jake Gardiner, James van Riemsdyk found himself with the puck behind the net. You can see here how this is the start of a problem for Buffalo. Four players below the dots. Less than ideal. Marner, not even in frame yet, is creeping towards the net.

JVR holds the puck as long as he can, and as the Sabres creep in, Marner is breaking farther towards the net as well.

Marner takes a pass in traffic from JVR, and manages to maintain control of the puck, while getting a shot off.

This is the most impressive thing for me. He is able to stay on his feet to be able to get through all of that traffic and put a rebound into the net. Remarkable play.

Playmaking

It’s always a good thing to be creating offense off of a failed zone exit.

Against the Jets, the Leafs stopped a Winnipeg attempt to exit the zone, and Marner’s vision and patience helped create everything.

The Leafs and Marner keep the puck right inside the blue line.

As the Jets defenders are pushing up on Marner and focusing in on him, JVR steps forward to break in and find some space behind the defense. Marner sees this and threads the needle perfectly.

JVR puts a shot on goal, it rebounds out to the right faceoff circle, where Connor Carrick is rushing in to put it in the net.

Neutral zone turnovers aren’t a good idea when you have playmakers like James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner on the ice.

Giving Marner the puck at center ice with room to skate and create offense: generally not a good idea.

You can see here that you’ve got Marner with control of the puck, and really only one defender back, with others not in position to defend.

Marner briefly loses control of the puck when crossing the blue line, but keeps his feet moving, while JVR moves towards the net on the far side.

Marner balances his skates a little wide, and uses his stick side as well to keep the puck from being knocked away. JVR has the angle to beat the Panthers defender to the net.

Marner then uses his passing strength to get the puck across the defender and in front of the net to JVR, who beats the goaltender, and just like that, you’ve got a tied game.

Now this assist is just silly. The puck in his feet, a backhand pass, right on the tape. A game-winning goal.

This is one of those moments when you say "What?!?!" or "How???"

As the puck was entering the zone and heading towards the net, Nazem Kadri directed it over to Marner.

It took a deflection along the way and that caused it to be a bit behind Marner.

As Marner reached back for the puck, the defenders started zoning in on him. Because of his awareness, turning his back on the play didn’t affect anything.

As he took the puck, he quickly turned and passed it to the net without turning around to look.

What a smooth pass. Bozak was there to finish it and ultimately score the game-winning goal.

I mean you’ve got to be kidding me, right? What a pass. Both defenders focused on the guy who has his back to the play, but Bozak was ready for it.

Sometimes he can do both

On Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks, Marner showed off both aspects of his game.

This assist shows the patience and vision that Marner has, more than anything. After setting up the Leafs on the power play with a nice controlled zone entry, Marner dished the puck off. As it goes with good players more often than not, it found its way to come back to him and he made a beauty of a play.

As the puck came to Marner, his two options were to put the puck on net or make the pass. He chose correctly.

Bozak opened up to shoot at the right time, and Marner put it perfectly on his tape. Bozak helped him out by finishing what ended up being a really difficult chance given the way he was falling down.

I'm not sure how many 19-year old players would make that pass instead of firing for the top corner and skying it over the goal. That's just a beautiful playmaker's assist.

Marner wasn't done for the night after the great assist, as he scored one of his own while he was at it.

Bozak returned the favor with a great assist to Marner. A quick rush for the Leafs started with Martin Marincin rushing the puck to JVR, who fed it to Marner.

As JVR gets Marner the puck, he passes it to Bozak, who is farther up the ice, and then heads to the net.

This is the ultimate "put your head down and go to the net" drive from Marner that coaches and fans love. Bozak was just waiting for Marner to get to the spot he needed him at.

Bozak makes a great pass to get it through the defender and his lane.

Marner corrals the puck well and doesn't have much time to do anything other than put a shot on goal.....

...so that's what he did. It's in the back of the net and it's 4-2.

Recap

To recap, Mitch Marner is going to be a damn good player in this league for a very long time. It couldn’t hurt him to add some size and get bigger as he ages. Regardless, he has already shown in the early stage of his NHL career that he does not lack the skills and hockey IQ needed to compete at this high of a level.

My personal guess — he’ll be the next Nicklas Backstrom. Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, overshadowed by Auston Matthews, but still a remarkable and fantastic player. Backstrom is both of those things, and can be overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin.

I think that for casual NHL fans, and specifically those outside of Toronto that don't watch him night-in and night-out, Marner is going to be really underrated for many, many years.