Forward Mitch Marner of the London Knights silenced the hometown fans in Alberta on Friday night as his Knights team beat the Red Deer Rebels 6-2 in the opener of the 2016 Memorial Cup. The Knights captain and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect ripped through the home team to end up with 2 goals and 3 assists on the night. His 5 points was just short of the tournament record 6, which hasn’t been seen since Mike Mathers accomplished the feat with the Kamloops Blazers in 1992 (and has only ever happened three times). With London continuing to feed off of momentum from their dominant run in the OHL playoffs, Marner finds himself in position to make history at junior hockey’s most prestigious championship.
Mitch Marner Chasing Memorial Cup History
The Knights as a team have already made history this year – their 13 game winning streak to finish the playoffs was an OHL record. For Marner, team accolades are good enough for him – all year, he’s been the first to shake off any questions about his personal achievements, deflecting to cliches about the big picture. Fans, though, need not be so focused – Marner’s personal legacy could have him among the elites of the CHL within weeks.
Marner has expanded his repertoire in recent weeks, showing off his incredible (yet underused) wrist shot against Red Deer. He mentioned in December that he was trying to use it more, but his shot remains a secret weapon that goalies can’t figure out.
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) May 21, 2016
He’s easily the most creative playmaker on the ice at any point, and has now almost unequivocally established himself as the most dominant player in junior hockey right now. What’s left for Marner to accomplish?
Accolades all that remain for Marner
Despite being one of the most prolific Canadian junior teams, the London Knights have won the Memorial Cup just once – in 2005. However, they’ve appeared in the tournament in four of the last five years. The fanbase is ravenous for the team to finally win the Cup again, and it’s looking increasingly likely that Mitch Marner could be the hero they need.
Currently, he’s on a 17-game playoff points streak, with 49 points in just 19 postseason games (including game one on Friday). Marner fell short of Justin Papineau‘s OHL record of 51 (he only had 44), perhaps in part because he played three fewer games – his 2.44 points per game would’ve put him on pace to at least equal Papineau had the Knights played a little more.
Marner has history of a different sort in his sights now, though. In recent weeks, he won the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player, as well as the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award for MVP in the playoffs. That alone is an impressive feat, but after game one there are whispers going around the hockey world that Marner has emerged as an early contender for the Stafford Smythe Trophy, awarded to the MVP at the Memorial Cup.
Very few players have ever won all three awards in a season. Eerily, the last to do it was Corey Perry, in London’s 2005 championship season. Before him, Brad Richards did it in 2000 with the Rimouski Oceanic. Richards swept the MVP awards that year, adding the CHL’s outstanding player award to his collection (Perry missed out on that one to Sidney Crosby). It’s early in this Memorial Cup tournament, but Mitch Marner has already put himself in a position to join such an exclusive club.
Anything can happen in junior hockey, and there’s absolutely no guarantee the Knights win anything – they haven’t come up against either of the other league champions yet. They do look stronger than ever, though. One has to think that if they do go all the way, the most likely candidate would be Marner, who would all but guarantee himself a spot in the rafters of Budweiser Gardens by leading the Knights back to the promised land.
He’s already fourteenth on the Knights’ all-time scoring list with 301 points, and if he does end up back in London next year (which, admittedly, he very likely won’t), he could pass Perry’s 380 at the top in his sleep.
Five points in one game, on the biggest stage in the CHL, is impressive already. With Marner’s ability to produce under pressure, even the Memorial Cup scoring record of 16 points is well within the realm of possibility.
I am legitimately running out of ways to say that Mitch Marner is good at hockey.
— Charlie Clarke (@LWOScharlieocc) May 21, 2016
Yes, this is all fantasy. There’s nothing even close to a guarantee of the Knights continuing to roll like they have been, against the two strongest teams they’ll face all season. But if they find themselves approaching the Memorial Cup final, there are a few things worth keeping an eye on for Mitch Marner.