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Marner, Meeker play same game, Fischler says

Compares Maple Leafs right wing of today with predecessor from seven decades earlier

by Stan Fischler / Special to NHL.com

Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for NHL.com. Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," shares his knowledge, humor and insight with readers each Wednesday.

Today, he compares current Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner and Howie Meeker, who played the same position when Toronto won the Stanley Cup four times from 1947-48 through 1950-51.

When it comes to comparing two talented right wings who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs seven decades apart, a look at Howie Meeker (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) and Mitchell Marner (6-foot, 175) reveals that they have a lot more similarities than merely playing the same position.

Speed was one key to Meeker's game, as it is with Marner. Meeker's shooting skills helped him win the Calder Trophy in 1947. Marner is a sharpshooter whose game includes remarkable vision and a high hockey IQ.

Another thing they have in common: Each is just plain likable -- but very determined.

Grim determination against heavy odds enabled Meeker to make it to the NHL. While serving with the Royal Canadian Engineers during World War II, he nearly lost a leg in 1944 when a grenade accidentally exploded near his feet during training. But Meeker recovered, helped Allied engineers build bridges along the Rhine and at war's end returned healthy enough to show up at the Maple Leafs' training camp in September 1946.

Coach Hap Day wisely put Meeker on a line with center Ted Kennedy and left wing Vic Lynn. They fit together like a trio of perfectly meshed gears.

Current Toronto coach Mike Babcock experimented with Marner as part of different combinations as a rookie in 2016-17 before placing him with left wing James van Riemsdyk and center Tyler Bozak. The three were effective, but after van Riemsdyk and Bozak left as free agents last summer, Marner wound up on the right side with free agent signee John Tavares at center and Zach Hyman on left wing. They clicked as easily as Meeker and his predecessors seven decades earlier.

"Tavares is the ideal center for Marner," asserted Toronto hockey writer Rob Del Mundo. "John enables Mitch to showcase his skill and speed."

Video: SJS@TOR: Marner gets new stick, feeds Tavares

One Marner highlight from last season took place on Nov. 28, 2018, when he broke his stick in the defensive zone late in the first period during a game against the San Jose Sharks at Scotiabank Arena. "Mitch skated by the Leafs bench on a breakout to get a new stick from the trainer," Del Mundo wrote, "and then sped down the right wing to set up Tavares on a jaw-dropping goal." It was one of Marner's 68 assists during a season that saw him finish with a team-leading 94 points, 11th in the NHL and the most by a Toronto player since Hall of Famer Mats Sundin had 94 in 1996-97.

Meeker's first-year feats began when he scored five goals in a game during his rookie season, a modern-era NHL record that's been matched just once. It continued by helping Toronto win the Stanley Cup in 1947 and concluded with being voted as winner of the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, finishing ahead of, among others, "Mr. Hockey" himself, Gordie Howe.

There's one significant difference between Meeker then and Marner now: Meeker played on Stanley Cup-winning teams in each of his first three NHL seasons and four overall; Marner's teams advanced to the playoff in each of his first three NHL seasons but has yet to get past the first round. However, at age 22 and with a new six-year contract in hand, he's still got time.

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