BUFFALO - With the Maple Leafs holding the fourth and 24th pick in the NHL Draft, there are many directions the team could go. With a lot of top-flight talent available, there wouldn’t be any harm in going with a familiar route.
Mitch Marner, a centre for the London Knights has ties to the current co-interim General Manager
“It’s been pretty funny, I was walking down the hall and his laugh is one-of-a-kind so I heard that all the way down the hall so I peeked my head in and said I can still hear your laugh as it got quieter,” said Marner, who addressed the media following a grueling two days at the NHL Combine. “That’s just how he is.”
In London, Marner was drafted into the OHL by Mark Hunter, who was GM of the Knights up until this past October when the Leafs hired him.
It’s now an interesting scenario where Marner finds himself being interviewed by Hunter as he enters the next stage of his hockey career.
“It’s different because you’ve seen this young man at a young age at 15 years old,” said Hunter. “Now you’re seeing him grow into a man so it’s interesting.”
Marner went through interviews with many teams as part of the combine. The most challenging question coming from Hunter himself.
“It was probably the question of if my mom was sitting in this chair, what would she say about you?” said Marner. “That’s probably the weirdest one and hard to answer."
A native of Thornhill, Ont., Marner grew up watching the Maple Leafs. It won’t be clear for some time what the Leafs will do with their pick. While Marner may have Hunter on his side, it doesn’t necessarily mean the stars will align that way.
“It’s pretty lucky to have my old GM in Toronto. But, anywhere I go in this draft, I will be happy,” Marner added. “Just because I won’t go to Toronto, I won’t be sad. Every team is going to be a special team for me to play for.”
Regardless of where Marner goes, the Hunter family had a big influence on his promising career.
“Mark and Dale put a lot of trust in me in my first year, this year they put even more in me. As a ’97 going into first year and playing with two guys who were drafted in the first and second round. I was very lucky to do that and I’ve learned a lot my first and I think that’s why I excelled this year.”
Marner matured from someone who was 5-foot-6 and 125 pounds when drafted to the OHL, to 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds with plenty of room to grow.
Should Toronto keep the fourth pick, it will be their highest selection since 1989. Still, the Leafs will exercise patience and you will more than likely see that player sent back to their respective team for further conditioning.
“We’re going to be patient,” Hunter insisted. “We want to protect our asset that’s fourth overall. We want to develop him and make sure they’re getting better and without stumbling around where it’s unnecessary.”
With Hunter in the driver’s seat for the upcoming draft, lots can happen. While there are different strategies at play when it comes to drafting by position, thinking long-term is still priority number one for the Leafs.
“I think everyone kind of values centre and defence more. Yes you are going to look at it, but yes you are going to try to keep on the right train of thought and try to draft the best player that is available for when we will be a contending team, three to five years from now.”