Mitch Marner on defense; 3 Western Conference teams I have concerns with
The Toronto Maple Leafs have an interesting idea for one of their best players; I have some concerns with the Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, and St. Louis blues
Since the start of the 2018-19 NHL season Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner has been one of the top offensive players in the league. His 325 points during that stretch tie him for eighth most in the league (alongside teammate Auston Matthews), he is a back-to-back first team All-Star on the wing, and is one of the best playmakers in the world.
He is on the short list of top forwards in the league.
So you might be able to understand why it raised some eyebrows when it was revealed on Thursday that the Maple Leafs are going to toy with the idea of using him on defense in certain situations this seasons.
On the surface it seems like a completely wild idea, but when you dig a little deeper it makes a ton of sense. And I really like it.
It is obviously not going to be a permanent switch, but rather a situational move when the Maple Leafs might be trailing late in games and need some extra offense on the ice to try and even the score. Putting an extra forward on the ice in place of a defenseman could theoretically help add that extra punch. It’s something I have questioned why teams don’t do more often for a while now. Even though coaches have become far more aggressive with goalie pulls late in games, there is still a point where it is way too early. And if you find yourself down by a goal or two with under seven or eight minutes to play, why not work around that by going with a four forward and one defenseman alignment?
And Marner is the perfect player for that sort of experiment.
For starters, while he is known for being an elite scorer and offensive talent, he is not a complete zero defensively. In fact, he’s actually pretty good without the puck on his stick. He has received Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) in each of the past four years, and even finished as high as 10th in the voting during the 2020-21 season. But not only that, some of Marner’s best attributes as an offensive player are his vision, playmaking, and ability to see the ice when everything is front of him, which is everything you want in a puck-moving defenseman.
He is also used to playing in some of those positions anyway, as noted by Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.
“Players move around now and forwards end up having to cover and play on defence far more frequently, probably, than in the history of our game. Naturally, players younger and younger are gonna start to come up with those type of skill sets. ... You look at the way (offensive D-man and Norris champ) Cale Makar plays the game, there's a lot of young kids growing up that are gonna want to look like that.”
“Mitch spends a lot of time up at the blue line as it is. Obviously, the power play he plays up there quite a bit. So, it was just more natural for me to consider that because he's done it at the NHL level. He’s run the power play from the top in a five-forward type of look in junior. So, he’s got lots of experience doing that.”
The big test for Keefe and the Maple Leafs might be A) their willingness to actually follow through with the idea, and B) their willingness to stick with the experiment if it does not work out perfectly as planned every single time. This is the type of idea that coaches might have and only use as long as it works every time and then completely abandon the one time they give up a goal or a mistake gets made.
Three Teams I have Concerns About This Season
This week I started doing some contributing work for Bleacher Report (my first contribution is here) and we did some way too early playoff predictions (you can read all of our picks here), and in the process of putting them together it made me think about a few teams I have serious questions about this season.
Let’s take a look at them….
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