Mitch Marner may not be a strapping 6'4", 225-pound centre. What he is, though, is a highly skilled forward who can play at centre or on the wing. Instantly, he becomes the most talented prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs' stable of prospects.
Granted, the Leafs didn't get either of the two "franchise" centres in this year's NHL draft. While Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be playing with the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, respectively, selecting Mitch Marner was a good pick at No. 4.
Let's look at the top three reasons why the London Knights centre was such a good choice for the Maple Leafs.
1. Mitch Marner is an Exceptional Attacking Player
Mitch Marner lit up the Ontario Hockey League this past season. As a 17-year-old, the Markham, Ontario, native scored 126 points in 63 games. This was good for second place in the OHL scoring race despite playing on a good, but not great, OHL team.
Marner's London Knights were the sixth-best team in the OHL's regular season, as judged by point totals, and two other teams were within sniffing distance of the Knights. His team was good, but not elite.
While the Knights had some very good offensive players in Christian Dvorak and Max Domi, Marner led the squad in scoring.
Marner was the dominant offensive player on the team. Outside of Connor McDavid, he consistently displayed the best set of hands in the OHL. His creativity is already at the NHL level. He has the ability to create scoring opportunities on every shift, especially as he grows physically.
Note: Video contains some NSFW language.
2. A Good Transition from the Hunters to Mike Babcock
Marner has been learning the game while toiling for one of the CHL's best-run organizations. The London Knights demand pro-like play and actions from their players. There are no soft rides in London.
Mark Hunter was part of the Knights' management team that selected Marner, and quite clearly, he would have been a huge booster for the young star.
Mike Babcock is another no-nonsense operator who requires inspired play from smart players. Marner thinks through the game extremely well and should be able to absorb Babcock's high-level teachings with ease.
Whether it is next season or not (bet on it being next year), Marner has been prepared well for what will be demanded of him by the game's best coach.
3. Marner's Upside is Extremely High
While players like Dylan Strome and Jack Eichel have likely peaked physically, or are at least very near to it, Marner has room to grow. He's listed at 5'11" and 160 pounds. Although that height may be debatable, there are indicators that he can gain another 20-plus pounds. Of course, this is only a good idea if he doesn't sacrifice almost any of his exceptional speed.
Marner may not ever be 6'0" and 200 pounds, but he's already proven he can dominate against his peers at his current size. Without question he has to get stronger. However, his style of play does not demand him to be bigger than his opponents.
If you're searching for comparisons, think about how good former London Knight Patrick Kane has been in his NHL career. Tyler Johnson has also excelled at an even smaller size than Marner.
Coupled with this is Marner's versatility. He can play on the wing or at centre. To play in the middle, he'll need some size on at least one wing, but he has the defensive instincts to be a great NHL pivot in the coming years.
He may not move into the middle as a rookie, but that potential certainly exists. Leafs fans should be very excited about the possibilities that are on the horizon.
Marner will be a big part of the Toronto rebuild. Leafs need more size on their roster, but Marner's skills are not easy to come by. The club can fill the need for size with other players.
All stats can be found on hockeyDB.com.