RED DEER, Alberta - Forward Mitchell Marner of the London Knights represents a bright future for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The No. 4 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft was dominant in leading London to the Ontario Hockey League championship.
Marner's offensive prowess continued Friday in the opening game of the 2016 Memorial Cup, with two goals and three assists in a 6-2 win against the host Red Deer Rebels.
"He's got great character, he cares about winning and losing," London coach Dale Hunter said. "With his skill level, and when you have a skilled player like that, it makes him special. He has great vision on the ice, he has a good hockey mind and his skating is outstanding along with his shooting and his passing. What brings him up above other people, though, is his character. He can kill penalties, block shots, do the little things that coaches like, plus get points."
Marner, 19, had 116 points (39 goals, 77 assists) in 57 regular season games for London. He led the OHL in playoff scoring with 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 18 games. London won 13 consecutive games in the playoffs, sweeping their final three series and are one of the favorites at the Memorial Cup.
"He can do anything out there, he can make a lot of plays," linemate Christian Dvorak said. "He knows where we are on the ice even without looking. He's great to have on our line, and hopefully, we can keep playing the way we are."
London's top line of Marner, Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk, the second-ranked North American skater for the 2016 NHL Draft, combined for 10 points against Red Deer.
They took control of the game with three goals in the final 6:09 of the first period, with Marner assisting on all of them. Marner scored two of London's three goals in the second period, including the eventual game winner, to put the game out of reach.
"They are talented and skilled," Red Deer coach Brent Sutter said. "When you give them ice and allow them to do things and you don't play a hard game against them, they're going to dominate you. Just their skillset, and they play pretty well on both sides of the puck, too. I thought we fell right into the way they like their opposition to play, and it's not the way we like to play."
Marner is expected to play with the Maple Leafs next season as a core piece of their rebuild, along with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Toronto won the opportunity to select first at the NHL Draft Lottery on April 30.
Toronto is expected to take forward Auston Matthews with that selection, which would give them a solid base after finishing 30th in the NHL standings this season.
Marner, a product of Thornhill, Ontario, is in his third year with London. He was named the OHL's most outstanding player and playoff MVP. Marner was also member of Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.
He is hoping to end his junior career with a Memorial Cup championship. London plays the Western Hockey League champion Brandon Wheat Kings in their second round-robin game Monday. Brandon and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, play in the second game of the tournament Saturday.
"It was a good start, the first 10 minutes wasn't how we wanted to play, but after that, we really got into the game," Marner said. "The last 10 minutes of the period, we really took over the game."
Marner's five points was one shy of a Memorial Cup record shared by three players, Joe Contini (Hamilton, 1976), Guy Rouleau (twice, Hull, 1986) and Mike Mathers (Kamloops, 1992).
Marner had an excellent opportunity to score his hat-trick goal in the third period, but just missed picking the top corner on Red Deer goaltender Rylan Toth.
"No, you're not really thinking about that [record], you want to win," Marner said. "It doesn't really matter about points. I had a chance [for a hat trick]. I missed the net, so it's my own fault."
Despite not equaling the record, Marner was happy with his line's performance against Red Deer. Along with Dvorak and Tkachuk, the unit combined for 344 points in the regular season.
"It's been special," Marner said. "All three of us have been working together really well, and playing with those two it's always fun every night, it's exciting. But we can't stop now, we have to let this go and start thinking about Brandon."
MEMORIAL CUP OF JOE
What we learned: Marner is a dominant player. The Knights captain took over the contest in the second half of the first period, assisting on London's first three goals. He went on to score two in the second to put the game out of reach.
Key moment: Red Deer had the early momentum, but an undisciplined roughing penalty by defenseman Haydn Fleury on Matthew Tkachuk gave London a power play at 13:28 of the first period. London scored 23 seconds into the man advantage and never looked back.
Player of the game: Marner. The Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick had two goals and three assists and was a point away from equaling a Memorial Cup record.
Quotable: "We took an awful penalty and that's stuff we address all year. It was a terrible, terrible penalty on our part from our best defenseman [Fleury]. It seemed like from that point, we started doing things that throughout the year got us in trouble."
- Red Deer coach Brent Sutter
Sunday's game: Red Deer vs. Rouyn-Noranda (7 p.m. ET, SN, TVA Sports; 8 p.m tape delay, NHL Network)