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World Championship

Mitchell Marner using World Championship as training experience

Maple Leafs forward playing for Canada in tournament, preparing for potential long playoff run next season

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

PARIS -- Mitchell Marner may be young, but what he and the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to accomplish in his first NHL season wasn't lost on the rookie forward.

He and fellow first-year forwards Auston Matthews, 19, and William Nylander, 21, helped the Maple Leafs qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four years and the second since 2004.  

Marner, 20, said friendly competition between the three was a big part of their success in Toronto.

"We wanted to push each other to get better every game," he said. "I think that's what we did well. Every game we wanted to go out there and help the team win no matter how we did it. I think each one of us contributed in a way every game that gave us a chance to win, whether it was putting up points or playing a solid defensive game. Constantly everyone was trying to help each other. That's what we did so well."

The Maple Leafs finished 30th in the NHL in 2015-16 with a 29-42-11 record. They selected Matthews with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and he, Marner and Nylander all made the team out of training camp.

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm1: Marner lays out to open the scoring

"I just wanted to go in and help the team year," Marner said. "Everyone knew what happened the year before. I just wanted to go help this team win. I didn't know I was going to make it or not. When I got the news, I wanted to focus on myself and knew what I was getting myself into."

It worked for all three; each of them finished in the top four in rookie scoring.  

Marner, selected fourth in the 2015 draft, and Nylander, taken eighth in 2014, tied for third in rookie scoring with 61 points. Marner's 42 assists led all rookies, and Nylander's 22 goals ranked him fourth. 

Matthews tied for second in the NHL and led all rookies with 40 goals. He was the first rookie to reach that mark since Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals had 52 in 2005-06. Matthews also led all rookies with 69 points.

Toronto's veterans made it possible for them to thrive, Marner said.

"The older guys around me really helped me out with that, talking to me a lot," he said. "That's important for a young guy. That was a big reason why I did so well.

"We're a lot of young guys on our team, but the older guys were really accepting to us. Whenever we needed help or had a question they were always there for us. That's important as young guys, knowing you have the older guys on your side and they're willing to help you. It was a special season. We're all happy with how we did, but we set the level this year.

'We want to do better next year."

The Maple Leafs went 40-27-15 in 2016-17 and were the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They were eliminated by the Capitals in the first round in six games.

"Now we know what it's going to be like," Marner said. "We know what to expect when it happens again. We set that goal for ourselves to make sure we're ready for it next year. We're going to play ourselves in a position where we're going to be more successful."

Video: WSH@TOR: Marner slams home late power-play goal

It's also part of the reason he accepted an invite to represent Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. Marner is training his body for what hockey is like beyond April. He plans on playing well beyond the month next year in Toronto.

"Playoffs [are] still going on, and you want to train your body so you're ready at that level and can play at this level this long," said Marner, who has four points (one goal, three assists) in three games and is playing on a line with Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers. "That's why I wanted to come here so bad. There's so many skilled players. "

"It'll help my body make sure I'm ready for a long playoff run."


Results from Tuesday:

Norway 5, Slovakia 1: Patrick Thoresen and Ken Andre Olimb each had one goal and two assists in a Group B preliminary round game at AccorHotels Arena in Paris.

Latvia 2, Italy 1: Andris Dzerins scored two goals and Elvis Merzlikins made 20 saves in a Group A preliminary round game at Laxness Arena in Cologne.

France 4, Switzerland 3: Yohan Auvitu (New Jersey Devils) had a goal and an assist for France in a Group B preliminary round game in Paris.

Denmark 4, Slovakia 3: Morten Green had a goal and two assists and scored twice in the shootout and Patrick Russell (Edmonton Oilers) scored one goal in a Group A preliminary round game in Cologne.

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