The London Knights dangerous top line – Mitch Marner (TOR), Christian Dvorak (ARI), and Matthew Tkachuk (2016) – was the story of the Canadian Hockey League this season. The trio was troublesome for opposition defenders en route to a Memorial Cup win, but they alone weren’t responsible for a national championship.
Coaching, goaltending, and obviously, defense played a big part in the team’s incredible 17-game winning streak to finish the season. Following the Memorial Cup win, as players celebrated on the ice of the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer, the one player who stood out most was a 19 year old whose job it is to not stand out.
Chris Martenet is a 6-foot-7, 212-pound defenseman from Illinois. After playing two years of Midget AA at the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s School in Minnesota, Martenet spent the 2013-14 season with the USHL’s Indiana Ice. He plays a smart, physical game, but his giant stature primarily attracted the Knights, who signed him as a free agent for the 2014-15 season.
Though Martenet didn’t play much on the power play with London’s elite-level prospects, he learned a valuable lesson this season that he will employ in the future.
“Give (the puck) to the really skilled guys,” he said, with a laugh. “Give it to the top guys. Just give them the puck. That’s my job; play defense, move pucks and be tough to play against. Just do the simple things to win games.”
While his size – and reach – is his biggest asset, it is those skills that he has improved which made him a legitimate NHL prospect in the past two seasons. If he had been born 10 days earlier, he would have been draft-eligible following his season with the Indiana Ice and likely would have been passed over after a five-point season. But the additional year of development – and move to London – helped his draft stock. He was rated by NHL Central Scouting as the 81st-best North American skater prior to the 2015 NHL Draft and had 16 points in 64 games as a rookie for the Knights.
Martenet was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Stars. The week before the start of the Memorial Cup, he signed his entry-level contract with the organization. With that comes the promise of income, the realization of a childhood dream and three years of security. But, at least in the moment, it wasn’t as meaningful as what he accomplished with his Knights teammates.
“On top of the world maybe – I don’t know,” he said of the past few weeks. “It’s great to have signed, yeah, but this is better than that. This is probably the hardest trophy to win in all of sports. You go through four rounds in the playoffs and you come here and you have to win three or four more games. You think about the odds of that – it’s messed up.
“We always knew we had the team to do it. At the beginning of the year I made a comment to local news. I said I think we can make a run, win the OHL cup and the Memorial Cup. There was no reason it couldn’t have been us. We believed in this team the whole year.”
Martenet’s production dipped from 16 to 12 points this season, but he gave London valuable penalty-kill minutes and played in late-game situations. He also added size and physicality to an otherwise undersized defense core.
For the second straight year he failed to record a point in the playoffs, but that wasn’t his focus, nor what the team was expecting from him.
“I think it has been a great year for me and signing is a mark of that,” Martenet said. “On top of that, coaches have said good things about my development and everyone is happy with my development. I’m not completely there yet – I still have a lot of work to do – but I just want to really enjoy this moment and the future.”
The short-term future for Martenet involves reconnecting with his family and taking a trip to Panama. Long term, the lengthy rearguard could begin his pro career next year with Dallas’ AHL affiliate in Texas, head to the ECHL to play with the Idaho Steelheads, or even return to the Knights – or another OHL team – to play out his overage season.
Wherever he ends up, he knows the one thing he needs to do over the summer: “Gain weight. I’m still a beanpole,” he said, laughing.
“That’s one of them; it has been awhile since we had a good workout. Since playoffs started you kind of rest up so I’ll be working out a lot this summer.”
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7