Toronto Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner Should Shoot Less

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 18: Nikolaj Ehlers #27 of the Winnipeg Jets tries to check Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on January 18. 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 18: Nikolaj Ehlers #27 of the Winnipeg Jets tries to check Mitchell Marner #16 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on January 18. 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The topic of why Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner should shoot less is no doubt a divisive one and the fact that it is not based in analytics but in the good old fashioned “eye test” will infuriate some even further.

However, open said eyes and watch not how Mitch Marner plays, but how goalies anticipate how Mitch Marner will play; you’ll see there’s more to this than just an antagonizing title. Since Mitch Marner first pulled on a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, everyone has been crying out for No. 16 to shoot the puck more. Outside of a spotty playoff record, not shooting enough has been the 23-year-old’s most consistent criticism.

There are a few reasons for why Marner hasn’t shot more in his career. Firstly, because he is an excellent passer, his vision and movement opens lanes for others.

Secondly, in his time as a Toronto Maple Leaf, Mitch Marner has played with some unbelievable shooters. Patrick Marleau is one even if he was past his prime with John Tavares who has an electric shot another; then there’s this guy from Arizona called Auston Matthews who frequently finds himself on the same line as Marner now.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Mitch Marner

Marner hasn’t really shot because he doesn’t really need to. His passing is in the upper echelon of elite and he has a line-mate that is arguably the purest goal scorer in hockey.  Marner has just 93 goals since the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him but a staggering 231 assists. While he obviously doesn’t possess as nice a shot as Matthews, Tavares and possibly William Nylander, he can score on goalies.

For comparison’s sake Nylander’s career shooting percentage is 11.8, John Tavares’ sits at 13.2 and Auston Matthews’ at 16.2. To his credit, Marner has tried to shoot the puck more this year. His career shooting percentage is 11.4% which, put against players who have played at least 82 games since 2015 ranks him 195th in the league, with Ryan O’Reilly, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Markus Granland as company. This season, albeit still in its infancy, the Markham native is shooting at 17.2%. (all stats

Leaving the stats to the side however, Mitch Marner shouldn’t shoot more because he holds the greatest weapon his shot could have: surprise. Marner is known around the league as a pass first player. He knows it, fans know it and most importantly, goalies know it.

Auston Matthews beats goalies because his shot is just that good, Mitch Marner beats goalies because they rarely expect the puck to be shot by him. It is as deceptive a shot as Matthews’ is blistering.

Cast your mind back to Toronto’s 5-3 win over the Canadiens on February 20th. With the game tied at 2-2 Marner had a two-on-one with Travis Boyd in support, Carey Price saw it was Marner and read the pass only for No. 16 to step in off the hashmarks and rifle it past Price.

Think of the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-0 win over the Oilers; with four to go in the 1st Tavares dishes it to Marner and moves to the front left pad of Oilers goalie Mike Smith. Smith adjusts to the shot but also positions himself to be closer to that left post which is the direction Tavares is moving because he expects Marner to slide a pass through to the Toronto Maple Leafs captain. Marner picks his time to shoot and beats Smith by shooting almost back across to Smith’s right side. Yes, the screen by Darnell Nurse and Tavares helped but it speaks to a larger point.

Re-watch both of the highlight packs from those games and what comes before both of Marner’s goals? A Marner assist to Matthews against the Habs when he could have shot, and to Nylander against the Oilers went he was down low close to the net.

With the league in its current divisions these goalies are seeing a lot of the same players and Marner’s passing ability means goalies have to anticipate what is more likely for No.16 to do, which is nearly always pass. If Marner starts to shoot more, he loses that key surprise element. Goalies will watch the tape and doubt a Marner pass meaning now it’s his shot that has to beat them, not the surprise.

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Marner is of enough quality that he’ll read the goalie and nearly always make the best move based on what’s in front of him, but right now, his career lack of shooting is actually what is paying dividends, not some sudden awakening to a scorching shot.