What More Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Expect of Mitch Marner?

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

As he looks back on his first four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mitch Marner can be proud of the numbers he’s accumulated. But there is more that he can, and should, be doing for this club.

Mitch Marner broke into the league for the 2016-17 season as a 19-year-old, after being selected 4th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

He is among elite company in that draft class, as it was the same year that Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were selected 1st and 2nd, respectively. Just as expectations have been held high ever since for those superstars, the same can be said of Marner as well.

Growing up in Markham, Ontario, Mitch was a self-proclaimed Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Beyond his local ties to the market, his obvious offensive prowess and the excitement he shares with every shift make him easily likable.

He also created the Marner Assist Fund, leveraging his platform and partnering with a number of organizations all in support of the community. What’s not to like about that?

Admittedly, Marner is my favourite current player on the Maple Leafs. I want to see him succeed. But I’m also a hockey fan, first and foremost, so I pride myself on being objective even amidst expected bias.

The Youth of Today

Entering his first campaign with a more recently drafted Auston Matthews, who went 1st overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the young talent that was flooding the Toronto Maple Leafs roster was positioning the franchise to turn the tide on their then losing ways.

Marner played in 77 games in the 2016-17 season, earning 19 goals and 42 assists for 61 points. He and Matthews were both named to that year’s NHL All-Rookie Team.

Of their 18 rostered players who participated in 50 games or more throughout the 2016-17 calendar, 50% of them were 25 years old or younger. Marner was 19 and amongst the youngest on the team.

And at only 22 years old today, he still is.

It’s important that you, whether you’re a Toronto fan or otherwise, recognize how many quality years are ahead for the players that are part of this organization. Lack of early team success isn’t indicative of future outcomes.

Besides, when we reflect on what Marner has added to this team and his year over year progress along the way, it’s difficult to debate the benefit he already brings to the Maple Leafs.

But is there another level to what Mitch Marner can contribute?

Yes, I believe there is. And at an AAV of $10,893,000, he needs to propel his play to a point that the organization’s investment is justified. He needs to verify his value for this franchise.

With a comparable on-ice style to fellow superstar Patrick Kane, fans can only hope that is a foreshadow of things to come.

It’s unrealistic to claim that Marner will hoist three Stanley Cups in a six-year span, or have a trophy case as full as Kane‘s currently is by the time he’s 31.

However, the similarities in their game and the supporting cast of teammates developing alongside them are certainly something to take notice of. Looking at their individual numbers throughout each of their first few years paints a similar picture, too.

Even if Marner’s Maple Leafs are only able to capture a fraction of what Kane’s Blackhawks achieved throughout the past decade, I’d still consider that success. Wouldn’t you?

What Has He Done For Us Lately?

With Marner in the Maple Leafs lineup since 2016-17, they haven’t earned a points percentage lower than .579 for any given season. This has helped them secure a spot the playoffs every year with him there.

Albeit, they haven’t found a way past the First Round in any of those attempts, but making it in is still a first step that he’s helped establish as an expectation from this point forward.

Marner has quickly become an over a point per game producer, which he’s achieved in his past two campaigns. He still tends to earn more assists than goals, but that comes as a natural byproduct of his playmaking abilities.

Already a proven 20 goal scorer, and playing throughout all even strength and special teams situations, he is poised to break the 30 goal mark within the next few seasons.

Taking on a greater leadership role with the organization in 2019-20, Marner was elected as an alternate captain. He has earned the responsibility to be looked up to and relied upon as a game-changer for Toronto.

As he matures into a stronger, more seasoned veteran in this league, the experiences he’s already been part of will only fuel his fire to bring this franchise back to a level of greatness they haven’t seen since the 1960s.

The Future Looks Bright

Committed to the organization through the 2024-25 season, there is also a core group of young talent that will continue to progress alongside Marner as he and his contract age.

Players like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, Jake Muzzin, Andreas Johnsson, and Justin Holl are all already contracted throughout similar timespans as Marner. That’s pretty good company to keep.

With these types of athletes growing together, one has to assume it will generate an improved cohesion that will ultimately result in greater collective production.

Start to anticipate more than just the expected enthusiasm out of Marner’s play, game in and game out. Now that he’s established his rightful place amongst the elites of this franchise, he will continue to elevate.

At the very least, just watch what he can do and enjoy the show. Toronto hasn’t seen his type of special talent in some time.

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I believe that Mitch Marner will hoist the Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And when he does, don’t be surprised if the Conn Smyth Trophy has his name etched into it, as the first Maple Leafs player to win the MVP award since Dave Keon in 1967.