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Top prospect Marner not letting size hold him back

by Mike G. Morreale

London Knights forward Mitchell Marner said he believes anything is possible if you're willing to put in the work.

Even for a 5-foot-11, 155-pound right-shot center who might be overlooked at the 2015 NHL Draft because of his size.

London's Marner establishing records

When London Knights center Mitchell Marner had a goal and an assist in a 4-1 victory against the Saginaw Spirit on Feb. 16, he became the 46th player in Knights history to reach 100 points in a season.

Marner, No. 7 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, is the third-youngest London player to reach the 100-point mark.

Marner, who turns 18 on May 5, also is the first 17-year-old OHL player to reach 100 points since 2011 when Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs and Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting did it.

Marner leads the Ontario Hockey League with 124 points (44 goals, 80 assists) in 62 games.

London Knights' all-time 100-point seasons since 2000

Bold names indicate OHL scoring leaders

2008-09: John Tavares 104 points (58 goals, 46 assists) 56 games

2006-07: Patrick Kane 145 points (62 goals, 83 assists) 58 games

2006-07: Sergei Kostitsyn 131 points (40 goals, 91 assists) 59 games

2006-07: Sam Gagner 118 points (35 goals, 83 assists) 53 games

2005-06: Rob Schremp 145 points (57 goals, 88 assists) 57 games

2005-06: David Bolland 130 points (57 goals, 73 assists) 59 games

2005-06: Dylan Hunter 117 points (32 goals, 85 assists) 62 games

2004-05: Corey Perry 130 points (47 goals, 83 assists) 60 games

2004-05: Dylan Hunter 104 points (31 goals, 73 assists) 67 games

2003-04: Corey Perry 113 points (40 goals, 73 assists) 66 games

-- Mike G. Morreale

"The NHL right now is at a point where size doesn't matter; it's all about the skill and passion," Marner said. "I think if you go out there and show that you're willing to go every shift, willing to prove a point and prove that you can hold your own, that skills are more important than the size."

Marner has made a believer out of a lot of scouts as well as a former teammate now starring in the NHL.

"He has tremendous offensive talent; I've been keeping tabs on him to see how he's doing," Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat said. "His offensive skill and shiftiness, ability to make plays, are what stood out to me when I played with him [in 2013-14]. He's having a heck of a year and hopefully some team will get lucky and pick him up."

Marner has been given more minutes playing with equally talented skaters and has raised his game in his second season with the Knights. He's the first London player to reach 100 points in a season since John Tavares in 2008-09; he had 104 points in 56 games in a season he started with the Oshawa Generals.

Marner became the fastest 17-year-old to score 40 goals in one season for the Knights, setting the mark in 52 games.

Tavares is the last of six London players to capture the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as OHL scoring champion following Patrick Kane in 2007, Rob Schremp in 2006, Corey Perry in 2005, Jason Allison in 1994 and Dave Simpson in 1982.

"I think coach [Dale] Hunter has really put some confidence in me, and when they did that it really kind raised my game and that's why I'm playing so well," Marner said. "When you get those extra minutes you want to do the best you can with them and I feel I'm doing the best with it right now. It's not just me but the linemates I'm with."

Marner has been alongside Arizona Coyotes prospects Christian Dvorak and Max Domi much of the season, and leads the Ontario Hockey League with 124 points and 80 assists, and his 44 goals are third. He also has 15 power-play goals, two shorthanded goals and a plus-37 rating. What makes Marner's point total even more impressive is that he had one goal and four points in the opening 10 games of the season before going on a 16-game point streak, during which he had 21 goals and 44 points.

"He put pressure on himself early on, just like any good player would," London assistant coach Dylan Hunter said. "He wants to be able to be the best all the time and I think coming into his draft year he had high expectations for himself. He had a tendency to want the puck too much and we told him he needed to play between the dots on offense and stay underneath the puck, not hold onto it for too long.

"Guys have to be able to listen and let it sink in, and after those 10 games he began to relax and started playing what was expected of him and what he's going to be in the NHL, a player who can bring that puck up the ice and spring guys for 2-on-1s and breakaways by using that speed."

Size didn't keep Marner from earning the No. 7 ranking on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.

"I think to make it as a smaller player you need to work those intangibles," Hunter said. "A lot of those smaller guys you see throughout the years in the NHL are fast. But to make it consistently at the next level it's being able to change your game up and not just being one dimensional. That's something Mitch has worked on hard. He wants to keep you guessing as a defender and get those greasy goals in front. It's something he does consistently and one reason why he's had success."

Marner said his goal at the start of the season was to finish with at least 90 points, a total he reached Jan. 17. Now he said he hopes to continue his solid play and take his game to another level. Some scouts have compared his style to that of Kane or Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle.

"We used to joke around and say that the way Kane sees guys on the ice resembles a video game because he knows where each of the players on the ice will be going," Hunter said. "That's what Mitch has. A tendency to never get hit. He makes plays when you feel there's no way he should be able to make them, and I can see that comparison between Mitch and Kane. Especially with their skating ability and lateral movement."

Marner was a product of the Don Mills Flyers AAA program, where he had 41 goals and 86 points in 55 games in 2012-13, and he was selected by the Knights in the first round (No. 19) of the 2013 OHL draft. The native of Thornhill, Ontario, also was recruited by the University of Michigan but opted for the Canadian Hockey League.

"I was speechless seeing the rink in London for the first time, seeing how the fans reacted to the Knights. And since Day One I wanted to be a part of that," Marner said.

Marner didn't waste any time making his mark as a rookie in 2013-14, with 13 goals and 59 points on the way to finishing second in voting for OHL Rookie of the Year. The season felt incomplete for Marner and his teammates, however, after losing to the eventual OHL champion Guelph Storm in the Western Conference semifinals.

Marner had three goals, nine points and a plus-3 rating in nine playoff games last season. He'll be counted on even more this season.

"When we look at guys in the draft we want top-end talent that can also make someone else better on your line," Hunter said. "Will that player complement another player and can you change your game to make it work? He knows that sometimes he isn't needed as a top scorer but as a defender and he'll do whatever you want to win the game."

What makes Marner so dynamic is his ability to generate plays for himself and teammates with his great speed and playmaking ability. He said that knowing his opponent and their tendencies is an important part of his preparation each game.

"I just like to have my head up at all times and know who's around me, know the guys I'm playing against," he said. "That's the best part about it. Once you know who you're playing against you kind of have a feel for what they will do and how you can go about working around that.

"I like to tell my linemates that if the guy likes to step up a lot just come near me and I'm just going to take that hit and give it to you."


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