Mitchell Marner has a huge fan in former teammate Patrick Marleau, who said the Toronto Maple Leafs forward has all the tools, physically and mentally, to be one of the top performers in the NHL.
“He amazes me,” Marleau told Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto on Friday. “I just love watching him play. I think the way he skates, the way he sees the ice, the way he creates space for himself, and that goes into his skating, is amazing.
“I’ve been trying to, like, OK, well … ‘he does this, he does that,’ and you try and go and replicate it and … it’s not as easy as it looks, that’s for sure. But it’s something he’s been working on, I’m sure, all his life.”
Marner was second on the Maple Leafs in scoring this season with 67 points (16 goals, 51 assists), behind center Auston Matthews (80 points; 47 goals, 33 assists), when the NHL season was paused on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
The 23-year-old, selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, is in his fourth season in the League. He has 291 points (83 goals, 208 assists) in 300 NHL games and 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Marner and Marleau were teammates in Toronto for two seasons, from 2017-19, before Marleau signed as a free agent with the San Jose Sharks, the team he played for during the first 19 seasons of his NHL career. The 40-year-old forward was traded by San Jose to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 24; he finished with 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 66 games with the Sharks and Penguins this season.
Marleau said the way Marner approaches the game on and off the ice reminds him of center Joe Thornton, his longtime teammate with the Sharks.
“He’s kind of like [Thornton] in a way,” Marleau said, “where he can have a great time and then, you know, flip that switch, as soon as he’s on the ice, it’s all business. He knows those different moments where he can relax and have some fun, but he’s also very passionate and very focused on being one of the best players in the League, I think, and winning.
“I think a lot of people cannot see that part because they always look at the happy and smiling and that. But he’s very focused, very committed.”
Toronto is among the 24 teams included in the NHL Return to Play Plan. The Maple Leafs were eighth in the Eastern Conference with a .579 points percentage (36-25-9) and will play the No. 9 seed Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, .579) in a best-of-5 series, with the winner advancing to the playoffs.
The qualifiers will be held at two hub cities to be named — one for the 12 participating teams from the East and one for the 12 teams from the West — and begin at a date to be determined. Phase 3 of the Return to Play Plan, the start of training camps, will begin on July 10, provided that medical and safety conditions allow and the League and NHLPA have reached an overall agreement on resuming play.