The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the 2015 NHL Draft with a mission to stockpile talent, as part of their well-publicized rebuild plan. To that end, they quickly turned their seven selections into nine, trading their 24th overall selection to acquire additional picks in the upper rounds.
The dominant theme in the Leafs’ draft was to select skill and speed over size and brawn. Six of the team’s nine draft picks are less than six feet tall, reflecting a clear change in organizational values in re-building the franchise.
“The guys who do have skill, you can develop them physically and they can get stronger, but you can’t put hockey sense in a player”, commented Mark Hunter, Toronto Maple Leafs Director of Personnel.
Mitch Marner, C/RW, London Knights (OHL)
1st round, 4th overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 160 lbs
Marner instantly joins William Nylander and Morgan Rielly as franchise building blocks and examples of the prototypical player that the Leafs are trying to develop within the organization—putting a premium on puck skills. Marner’s has been compared to Patrick Kane for his skill; John Tavares for his low panic threshold and vision; and Doug Gilmour due to his willingness to battle for the puck despite his small size.
The superlatives on Marner run long and deep: highly skilled with the puck; above average hockey sense; strong and fast on his skates; an ability to dictate and control the pace of play through puck possession; is more defensively aware than the typical high scoring forward in junior; is not physically intimidated.
Statistically speaking, Marner warranted all the high praise by providing an interesting glimpse into his potential as an NHL player this year. Two seasons ago, his 59 points in 64 games as an OHL rookie already placed him in elite company. However, the significance of Marner’s 126 points in 64 games may be an important indicator of a very successful NHL career. Looking back at OHL history, there have been only 10 other 17-year-olds with a minimum 40 games played to average 2 points per game in a season. Every one of those players turned into solid, if not All-Star, NHL players.
Marner’s statistical dominance goes even deeper. Of his 82 assists, 53 were primary, which means he directly contributed to a linemate’s goal. His detractors have made the argument that his point totals may be partially inflated by playing on a line with Coyotes first round pick Max Domi, however Marner’s points-per-game average was 66% higher without Domi in the lineup over a nine game span. Marner also excels in the playoffs, where his production has been better than in the regular season.
Despite the glowing reports of his skill set and proven on-ice performance, a 5’10” and 160 pound frame leaves Marner open to doubters about his future as a pro. Projection about Marner is a valid argument, yet the Leafs may feel they know him better than any other NHL club because Mark Hunter also drafted Marner for the OHL London Knights while he was their GM. That deep relationship reinforces the Leafs’ belief that Marner has the attitude and desire to overcome his limitations.
Given that the Leafs are preaching patience, Marner will likely be returned to the OHL next season and be converted to centre full time.
Marner took part in the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in early June. He spoke with the media following his testing session, with his comments being captured in this Hockey’s Future video.
Travis Dermott, D, Erie Otters (OHL)
2nd round, 34th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 195 lbs
A teammate of Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome on the Erie Otters, Dermott was the team’s best two-way defenseman. He is a very reliable puck handler who remains calm under pressure and makes smart decisions with the puck. For that reason, Dermott was the primary anchor used by the Otters on their umbrella powerplay formation. It relies on a single defenseman to man the point, distributing the puck throughout the offensive zone to create scoring chances. Dermott excelled in this capacity, registering eight goals and 37 assists in 61 games.
When the games mattered most during the OHL playoffs, Dermott stepped up his play and impressed Mark Hunter, leading Otters defensemen with 5 goals and 17 points in 19 games.
“I’ve seen this young man play a lot. Good skill, good compete. I’ve seen him play in the playoffs, when there’s even more intensity to the games, and he seemed to thrive on the situation,” said Hunter.
Dermott’s strength as a steady, offensive defenseman does not come at the expense of his defensive play. He is a conscientious defender. He is mobile, and uses his high hockey IQ to breakup plays in his own zone. Dermott is not overly tall, but his ‘thick’ build gives him confidence to go after loose pucks, block shots and eagerly engage opponents in one-on-one battles. In a word, his defensive play is reliable. He will be returned to Erie next season and will look to reinforce his potential as an offensive defenseman without the likes of McDavid in the Otters lineup.
Dermott met with the media following his selection by the Maple Leafs at the 2015 NHL Draft, with some of his comments being included in this HF video.