Analyzing the Dazzling, Historic Play of Mitch Marner

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more polarizing figure in hockey for his play on the ice than Mitch Marner. The winger has become easy to criticize when things are going wrong for the Leafs, and almost everyone (including myself) has gotten their digs in on Marner since he signed that massive contract back in 2019. At times, the criticism has been justified, especially after two mediocre playoff performances from Marner in back-to-back seasons, 19-20 and 20-21. However, more often than not, Leaf fans pile on Marner for reasons that are beyond his control. For example, Marner’s contract is a central point of anger when the winger is discussed, but that is not Marner’s fault. He could have taken less, but he certainly didn’t have to, and why would he when none of his teammates did?

Looking at this season, Marner started this season slowly, but so did the entire Toronto Maple Leaf roster. The 25-year-old winger is an expressive guy who wears his emotions on his face, and it was obvious that the criticism was getting to him at the start of the season as his play started to suffer. He was trying too hard, forcing passes he usually wouldn’t, and at times it looked like he was just going through the motions. Leaf fans piled on Marner (again, including myself), and the blame for the team’s offensive woes was placed at his feet. October was a scary month for the Leafs and an even scarier one for Marner. But once the month turned to November, the Leafs, and number sixteen, started to feel themselves again. Marner’s current historic point streak began pretty innocuously with a three-game stretch in which he racked up five assists, four of them being secondary. The fourth game of the streak is when you could see Marner’s wheel start to turn. With the Golden Knights in town, Marner took the game over in period two. He had an incredible spin-around assist on Timothy Liljegren’s and scored this nifty goal dangling through multiple sticks and sniping the top corner. Since then, he has played almost as well as anyone in the league, bar Jason Robertson.

Mitch Marner’s shot is something I want to look at more closely this season because I think he has made a committed effort to improve it, and it has paid off. The winger had 35 goals last season, and it’s clear he has become more confident when letting it fly from the hash marks. Of course, Marner will always be a past first player. It’s in his DNA to look for a teammate before looking toward goal. But as has been said a lot over his career, Marner becomes so much more dangerous if he is a consistent threat to score. His two goals against Tampa on Saturday were a great example of his improvements. His release is quicker, more deceptive, and he is starting to have the mindset of a goal scorer. Marner leads the Leafs in five-on-five goals this season; his aggressiveness is a big reason for that. 

I loved this goal from Marner, not only because of the high skill involved but because he isn’t scared to drive hard to the net and take some contact to score. He could have settled for a lower percentage shot on a less-than-ideal angle, but he doesn’t, and it pays off for him. 

The Leafs are at their best when they turn defence into quick offence by causing turnovers in the neutral and offensive zone. Marner is the Leafs forecheck king, and he has gotten even better at giving defenders headaches when they go back to get the puck in their own zone. We have some good numbers to back this up, thanks to Mike Kelly. 

Marner is also fourth in the NHL in takeaways, and it is because of how well he reads the game. He is always thinking ahead of opposing defenders and can sense when and where they are about to pass the puck. Also, Mitch has the most active stick I have ever seen. I am unsure if he just can’t stay still for more than two seconds or even realizes that he’s doing it, but it works. Finally, he is a complete menace in the neutral zone.

This encapsulates everything great about Mitch Marner in one play, and I think it’s my favourite goal by a Leaf this season. Look who he is embarrassing here, Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler. That pairing has been the best in the league this season and Marner bullies both of them in one play, then makes the pass from his knees to set up a tap-in. Determination, hockey IQ, and elite skill all in one. I’ve got one more example of Marner’s forechecking ability for you. 

Watch Marner go straight to Letang to put pressure on the pass, and once the other defencemen blindly passes it over to his partner, Marner knows he has a chance. Sixteen outworks Letang and quickly finds the open guy in the slot, creating a goal for the Leafs off what seemed like a reasonably harmless forecheck.

The Leafs have not been as dominant offensively this season as they have been in the last few years. They aren’t in the top ten in goals for or expected goals share at five on five, but they’re winning due to goaltending and their top players carrying the load on offence. Even Marner’s underlying stats aren’t all that impressive, but he is playing at a level that I have not seen him consistently play at. I think the change to play with Tavares instead of Matthews benefits the Leafs more over the long run, and I think it gives Marner more space to roam with the puck. By the end of the season, I expect Marner to be talked about in the same sentence as all the players that people regard as a level below McDavid. 

Whether the point streak continues or not, the Leafs needed this production level from Marner, and it says something about him that he has stepped up to the plate. I am glad Marner broke the record because it gives us something concrete to refer to when we talk about how well he has played over the last month. Of course, this streak does not make Marner absent of criticism, nor does it make up for his playoff failures, but hopefully, it will remind those Leaf fans that have a general disdain for him to be grateful that he plays for our team. Here’s hoping the point streak never ends.

2 thoughts

  1. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a more polarising figure in hockey for his play on the ice than Mitch Marner. The winger has become easy to criticise when things are going wrong for the Leafs, and almost everyone (including myself) has got their digs in on Marner …”

    Wow. You do write a load of shyte. And what you write is not English. I have corrected it for you. I take it you are American. Illiterate buffoon.

    Now … Have you ever even seen a NHL game? No one who knows hockey hated Marner. It is the idiot Dubas we all find distasteful and incompetent. Just like Burke (e.g. Kessel), and Nonis (every. last. thing. he. ever. did.).

    Like

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