Well I sure think he has a good chance. Mitch has been working with our guys and really training hard. He’s eating right and doing everything he can to get stronger. To say Mitch has got to put on a bunch of weight is ridiculous. All you have to do is get stronger – you are who you are, be the best Mitch you can possibly be. He’s got a lot of summer here left, and he’ll keep working at it, but he’ll have a real good chance to make the Leafs.
Babcock is referring to the overwhelming opinion that has been floated around since his draft, that Marner is too small to play in the NHL. Standing at 5’11”, 164lbs he’s always been a light player, and while he’s been working diligently to put on weight, he’ll never be a bruising forward. Opponents of the “he’s too small” camp use examples like Patrick Kane (5’11” 177lbs) and Johnny Gaudreau (5’9″ 157lbs) as reasons why Marner will succeed at the next level, given his elite offensive ability and hockey IQ.
While Marner played center in junior with the London Knights of the OHL, and was drafted as such, these smaller players often find the most success on the wings in the NHL and his role at the current National Junior Evaluation Camp may give credence to the idea that Marner is destined to move. He suited up today on the wing of Dylan Strome, top prospect of the Arizona Coyotes, for their game against Sweden (which they lost 4-1). The Maple Leafs have multiple options down the middle for next season, with Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Peter Holland returning, while number-one choice Auston Matthews has been added to the fold. William Nylander, another top prospect who showed off his offensive ability in a short NHL stint last season, is also a center by trade, though some think he’s also destined for the wing long-term.
Babcock also talked about the huge number of young players in Leafs camp this season. When asked if it was too many, he said he’d thought about that himself:
I’ve spent a lot of time on that. Obviously I have our lineup built out with three teams for camp, two teams for exhibition, and then you get down to one. They have to solve it themselves, it’s not up to me, they decide who’s on the team. When I go through it, we have some good men, we’ve acquired good men, we have good people in our leadership group so I think we can handle some kids. Obviously we had a lot of them last year, and having a few more this year – especially high-end ones – won’t hurt us.
The Maple Leafs have built quite a prospect pool to draw from going forward, with players like Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, and Kasperi Kapanen all making their NHL debuts last season. This year will be more of the same, as Marner and Matthews try to break in.