Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner Can Still Have a Career Year

We predicted that Mitch Marner would be a career player in 2021-22, before the season even began. Well, so far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, he won’t even play in tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche because he’s tested positive and has entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. 

But that hasn’t been his only issue on the season. A freak practice run-in (literally). with his friend and teammate Jake Muzzin put Marner on LTIR and he wasn’t able to return until January 1, 2022. 

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Even before that, Marner had not even been keeping up with the point-a-game pace that he’d established over the past few seasons. We believe he can still have his career season. In this post, we’ll share why.

Our Offseason Predictions about Marner

We wrote in June that Marner was an intelligent player with extraordinary vision. He’s also a hard worker who, we believed, would internalize the criticism he’d received during the past few seasons and channel it into an internal drive to make himself better. 

Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs),Amy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers

We both believed he’d play better next season than he had during the past. At the time we wrote that post, we envisioned that both Auston Matthews and Marner would sit with the coaching staff and Sheldon Keefe before the season started to watch film and work collaboratively to figure out what they could do as a duo to overcome their opponents’ defensive efforts. 

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Both of us believed that they were intelligent enough and motivated enough to succeed. They have confidence enough to believe and are determined enough to succeed. Those are the kind of attributes we believed any team’s stars should possess. Both Matthews and Marner were described as being angry, frustrated and driven. We believed that these characteristics could be used to create a better season as well as a better postseason.

The Team So Far has been Better than Expected, but Not Marner

To this point, things haven’t gone as expected in two ways. First, and we believe most Maple Leafs’ fans will admit it, Skepticism was expressed about this ability. of this year’s team to win before the season started. That skepticism was replaced by optimism that the team could make it to the playoffs. Yet, the skepticism and pessimism that haunts all Maple Leafs’ fans about the postseason haven’t dissipated. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

We believed Marner would have an even better season. Perhaps, he got caught up in the team’s slow start. It could have been the injury. But, for sure, Marner’s season hasn’t gone as well as most would have predicted.

Marner’s 2021-22 Regular Season Thus Far

Here’s a breakdown of Marner’s season to date. 

First, Marner managed only one point in his seven first games. He was an assister on a William Nylander goal, which resulted in a 2-1 win for the Montreal Canadiens. In those seven games, he was also a minus-4. During the team’s 5 – 3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on October 22, he was minus-3. 

Second, Marner was on fire. In his next five games, he scored 12 points. He had three goals and nine assist. All five games were won by the team. In the process, Marner registered a four-point night during a 5–3 win over the Boston Bruins on November 6. 

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Marner scored eight points in the 11 subsequent games. He finished with 21 points after 24 games. Six goals and 15 assists were his total. 

Fourth, as mentioned earlier in this post, Marner was in the collision on December 3 with Muzzin. Marner was injured and placed on the LTIR. He missed six games. Marner returned to action on January 1, but has been scoreless in only two games since. 

Fiveth, Marner got news yesterday that Pierre Engvall as well as he tested positive for Covid-19. Both were then placed on five-day COVID-19 NHL’s protocol, which means they’ll miss the next three games against the Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, and the Arizona Coyotes. 

Where Marner Will Stand After the Maple Leafs’ Game in Arizona

Following the Maple Leafs’ game in Arizona, after 35 games Marner would have missed nine games due to injury and COVID. Thus far, he’s scored at a pace that would give him 17 goals, 42 assists, and 59 points by the end of the season if he stayed healthy. That would make the 2021-22 regular season the worst season of Marner’s career. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Morgan Rielly
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner celebrates his teammate Morgan Rielly’s birthday (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill).

Seeing that Marner has averaged over a point a game (1.13 to be exact) over the past three seasons, we fully expect he’ll get healthy and improve upon his projected goal and point totals before the season ends. He is just too talented not to. However, needless to say, this season hasn’t gone as well as any of us might have predicted – and that probably includes Marner himself.

It Might Not Be Important

But, here’s the thing. Marner’s poor regular-season numbers will not matter if his performance in May, and possibly June, this year improves and he helps carry his team through the playoffs. As most Maple Leafs’ fans will tell you, the success of this team will be judged solely on its playoff performance. 

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Mitch Marner’s postseason performance will be crucial if this season is to be a career-defining one. If he is able to put it together then – when it counts the most for Maple Leafs’ fans – the rest of the season will have been made meaningless.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]