At first, it might sound ridiculous to compare a 19-year old rookie just halfway through his first professional season to a proven NHL-veteran, but Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner deserves that rare comparison.
Marner Shining For Maple Leafs in Place of Phil Kessel
So, without further delay, we must ask the question: Mitch Marner or Phil Kessel?
Drafted 4th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, Marner earned a spot as one of the Maple Leafs’ top six forwards after dominating the OHL (160 points in 75 games) and proving worthy throughout training camp. So far in his first NHL season Marner has accumulated 37 points in 44 games.
He skates with veteran linemates Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, who seem to be enjoying his presence. The two have scored a combined 0.80 points per game so far this season as opposed to last season’s total up to this point in January of 0.725 points per game.
Before Marner entered the picture, Bozak and van Riemsdyk created chemistry for three seasons (2012-2015) alongside an elite scorer in Phil Kessel. While the line was easily the Leafs’ best throughout its tenure, playing with a crafty playmaker like Marner might benefit the pair even more than playing with Kessel.
Improvements in Corsi For
For those unfamiliar with the advanced stat Corsi, it is essentially just shot attempts. Any shot directed at the net, whether blocked, missed, off the post or scored, is accumulated into one stat.
Through 2012-2015 the Leafs top line of JVR – Bozak – Kessel, generated a total CF60 (Corsi For per 60 minutes) of 61.22. By no means is this a poor number, the 2016-17 individual league average is about 55 according to The Athletic’s Charting Hockey (Sean Tierney). However, with Marner taking over Kessel’s spot, that number has slightly jumped up to 63.33.
While Marner’s sample size is small compared to Kessel’s, both lines have almost identical TOI% (the percentage of a team’s time on ice played by the line) totaling at 23.99 with Kessel and 23.24 with Marner. From an offensive zone perspective, it appears as though Bozak and van Riemsdyk are at least as good, if not better, in this area with Marner than they were playing with Kessel.
Fewer Corsi Against
Not only has the newly-formed line generated more positive numbers in the Corsi For side of things, but their shot suppression is better as well.
Their CA60 with Kessel totaled 69.95, much worse than the league average of 55, while with Marner their CA60 stands at 61.62. The CA60 with Marner does not suddenly make this line a shutdown unit, but it shows that with Marner there are significantly less shots heading towards Toronto’s net when this line is in the defensive zone.
With more shots attempted in the offensive zone and less shots given up in the defensive zone, it is logical that there are more opportunities to score.
Increase in Goals and Scoring Chances
Again, 44 games does not make for the greatest sample size, but it’s enough to determine whether players are generally effective. While we are just halfway through the 2016-17 season, the JVR – Bozak – Marner line has 3.71 GF60 (Goals for per 60 minutes) while with Kessel, Bozak, and van Riemsdyk mustered a relatively similar 3.1. But the real discrepancy is shown through scoring chances.
Through stats like SCF% (the percentage of a team’s scoring chances) and SCF60 (scoring chances per 60 minutes) it’s clear that having the teenage winger has given the Leafs better results.
With Kessel, the line’s SCF% totaled 44.81% while with Marner that number has risen to 57.14%. In comparison, the JVR – Bozak – Marner line has similar SCF% to T.J. Oshie – David Backes – Alexander Steen (57.73% in 2014-15), the ‘Triplets’ in Tampa Bay (Nikita Kucherov – Tyler Johnson – Ondrej Palat) who posted a 56.41% in 2014-15 and Joe Pavelski – Joe Thornton – Tomas Hertl (56.26% in 2015-16).
This all occurring on a much better Leafs team than in the past.
The kid can play and he is only going to get better.
In the first half of his first professional season Mitch Marner has already exceeded expectations and has established a name for himself as one of the NHL’s next premiere playmakers.
The 19-year old is generating above-average offensive numbers in his rookie season not only improving his own game, but clearly elevating the play of his linemates. Calling Marner better than Kessel, an experienced 29-year old with a Stanley Cup ring, right now is unfair, however, the future is bright for the Ontario-native.
Despite a relatively small sample size, Marner has been as good if not better than Kessel when playing with Bozak and van Riemsdyk so far, and he will only improve as he matures into a complete star in this league.