Show your support for the Humboldt Broncos. Take a picture of a hockey stick outside your door and use #PutYourStickOut and post it on social media. It's a small gesture to help a community in need of support.
My client, Green Relief, attended the Lift Cannabis Expo in Vancouver last month and spoke with some of the brightest minds in the medical cannabis field to get their take on where the industry is headed.
Happy Wednesday, folks. If you're a dog owner and you care about the well-being of your pooch, you need to check out Loyal Canine Co. They sell an awesome array of dog care products that are cruelty free, organic and super effective! Be sure to check them out at https://loyalcanineco.com or, find the Loyal Canine product line at Nordstroms.
It's been a while since I've put anything on the Left Turn Media website and Facebook Page. It was a busy end to 2017 and 2018 is looking to be twice as busy--which is fantastic! I don't do resolutions, as I believe most people don't keep them past the first week of January BUT I do promise to post more content here and to keep on creating.
I recently finished, Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen's autobiography. It was released in September of 2016 and it was amazing. I already whorshipped at the Altar of Bruce but after reading this book, I have a an even bigger appreciation for him. If you're an avid reader and like autobiographies, I suggest picking up this book, it's well worth it!
My client, Green Relief, is doing some incredible things in the world of Medical Cannabis and Sustainability. Check out this virtual tour produced by Lift. Check out www.greenrelief.ca for more info!
Left Turn Media is excited to announce a BRAND NEW podcast called, The Honest Vet Tech. Each week, we sit down with Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), Caitlyn Amaral as she gives advice on pet health, provides tips on how to keep your pet safe and answers listener questions! The very first episode is up now and you can find it on Apple Podcasts or your favourite podcatcher! To submit your questions to the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a new web series that I've produced and edited for one of my clients, The Allen Group. They're a real estate team based out of Guelph and Hamilton; they own an 87 acre farm just outside of Collingwood and they are doing a lot of cool things for argiculture and our eco-system. Here is episode 1, A Tale of Two Fields. Like their Facebook Page for more great content like this!
Hello folks. You may have noticed a couple of logo changes on the site as of late. Well, the4check.com is no longer! We had a good run but as my business has evolved, I've decided I needed to go with something a little different. Left Turn Media is the brand now and will be so until the end of time! I will still be doing a ton of sports stuff and The Sports Hipster Podcast but I am now a full-fledged Digital and Social Media Specialist! Stay tuned for more deets
For those of you who've listened to the Anthony Robles Episode of The Sports Hipster Podcast, here is the video of his final NCAA match where he became Individual Champ.
We’re 10 days in to the 2017 NHL Playoffs and a few things are certain. The Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks and Pittsburgh Penguins have punched their ticket to Round 2. There are 5 other first round series’ that are yet to be determined but here are a few things we’ve learned so far during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
WE ALL UNDERESTIMATED THE LEAFS
Or, we overestimated the Washington Capitals. Either way, it’s all gone Pete Tong in this series for the Caps as 3 of the 4 games have gone to overtime and all 4 games have been decided by 1 goal. Remember the sheer panic in Toronto when the Leafs drew the Capitals in the First Round and Ottawa got matched up with Boston? Those worries seem to be in the rear-view mirror because this series is tied 2-2 and there’s no reason to think that the Leafs can’t pull out a win tonight in Washington. There’s a very good chance that Toronto will still lose this series but I don’t think many people, including those in the Toronto locker room, envisioned things playing out like this.
It’d be easy to say the current standing in this series is solely due to Washington’s inability to do anything in the playoffs but that would be doing a disservice to the young Maple Leafs. They’ve shown tenacity, perseverance and all those other sports clichés and they’ve been able to hang with the Caps in every game. Yes, Frederik Andersen has been a huge factor for Toronto but remember, the Leafs are doing all of this with an average D corps and without their shutdown D-man, Roman Polak.
GOALTENDING WINS PLAYOFF GAMES
The Calgary Flames found that out the hard way. They were swept by the Anaheim Ducks last night and it wasn’t due to a lack of scoring. In game 3, Brian Elliott allowed 5 goals on 27 shots and game 4 saw him be pulled early in the first period after he allowed 1 goal on 3 shots. Elliott is a serviceable goaltender and is an above average backup but he’s not suited to be a number 1 ‘tender. A brain cramp once in a while is fine but when you’re constantly letting in leaky goals, a starting playoff goalie you are not.
Look no further than Ducks goalie John Gibson. He had a bad night in game 3, getting pulled after letting in 4 goals on 16 shots but he bounced back big time in game 4 only allowing 1 goal against. He is a big reason why Anaheim are on to the second round. The emergence of Shea Theordore and the return of playoff versions of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf also helped.
The Flames may also want to look at what they have with Johnny Gaudreau. He only managed 2 points in 4 games (with no goals) and made no impact whatsoever in this series. Sean Monahan potted 4 goals and 1 assist and that was with a bad wrist that will require offseason surgery. Monahan was the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season for Calgary.
FINISHING FIRST DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN YOU WIN
The Columbus Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth with plenty of time to spare in the regular season. Now, they’ll be making preparations for next season after being ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 5 games. They managed to win 1 game but they were never really in this series. The first 2 games, the Blue Jackets could only muster 2 goals against the Pens while allowing 7 goals against. Just like the Flames, the Blue Jackets just did not get the goaltending you need in the playoffs. Sergei Bobrovsky had a superhuman regular season but had a sub-.900 SV% in the playoffs. Also contributing to Columbus’ early demise was the play of big guns Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad and Nick Foligno. They made little noise in this series whereas Crosby, Kessel and Marc-Andre Fleury shone for the Pens. Pittsburgh also got big contributions from Byran Rust and Jake Guentzel.
If the Washington Capitals have taught us anything, it’s that the regular season means nothing when it comes to playoff time. When you coast into the postseason, you lose that so-called killer instinct and that is exactly what happened to the Blue Jackets. They also overachieved this past season—remove their 16-game winning streak and you’ll discover a good team that caught fire for a portion of the season.
EMBRACING THE UNDERDOG ROLE WILL HELP YOU WIN
When you’re talking about overachievers, it’s hard not to mention the Ottawa Senators. They live and die by Erik Karlsson and play a sometimes-risky 1-3-1 style of hockey but, somehow, they get things done. The Sens find themselves in the driver’s seat in their series against the Bruins and they’ve done it with a little bit of luck and a ton of grit. It’s been an emotionally taxing season for the Sens—Craig Anderson’s wife battling cancer, Bryan Murray with his own cancer battle and Clarke MacArthur making his return from severe concussion issues. It’s hard not to root for Ottawa, given everything this team has endured during the regular season. Erik Karlsson has been other-worldly, which is impressive considering he his most definitely playing hurt. Bobby Ryan has come off the mat, Derrick Brassard is providing the kind of secondary scoring that is crucial this time of year and Craig Anderson has been making big saves to keep his team in it.
Though he’s had a remarkable career, it appears the end is near for Zdeno Chara. The big man looks so slow out there and his production has dropped off dramatically. He only has 1 point in this series so far and his inability to keep up with the speed of the Senators is very evident.
THE BLACKHAWKS RAN OUT OF GAS
It was bound to happen at some point, but I don’t think many people would have thought that Chicago would be bounced in 4 straight games by the Nashville Predators. They didn’t just lose to Nashville, they got demolished by them. The Blackhawks were outscored 13-3 in this series and looked like a shell of their former selves in the process. Some could argue that the Blackhawks have played a ton of hockey the past 7 years, going deep into the playoffs and battling through 7 game series’ but I could not have envisioned this. Everyone from Toews, to Kane, to Keith failed to show up in this series and though they finished first in the Central Division, they did it in not-so-convincing fashion.
Give credit to the Nashville Predators who made a statement in the First Round. Pekka Rinne was stellar, Filip Forsberg came up big as did Ryan Johansen. The Predators have a highly-underrated backend which is crazy considering they have Subban, Josi and Ellis. They will most likely face St. Louis in the second round and I imagine it will be more of the same in that series.
THE EDMONTON OILERS ARE BACK
Don’t look now, but the Oilers are 1 game away from the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they’re doing it against a pretty formidable opponent. I know the knock on the Sharks is that they’re old and usually playoff chokers but this is a team that went to the Cup Final last year and has Logan Couture and Martin Jones on their roster. Not to mention Joe Thornton, who always seems to make things happen when he’s on the ice. Edmonton has not looked out of place at all in this series and a huge reason for that is a guy by the name of Connor McDavid. More so than the 3-2 series lead is how they’ve been able to bounce back after losses. In game 1, they lost in OT but came back the next 2 games and played structured and effective hockey. After getting shellacked 7-0 in game 4, they came back to gut out an OT win. That speaks to the maturity and evolution of this team and though it took longer than it should have, it’s here for the foreseeable future.
THE CANADIENS STILL CAN’T SCORE
This isn’t really news for those of you who’ve watched the Habs all season long but I felt it bared repeating. They were shut out in game 1, found some offense in games 2 and 3 but sputtered again in games 4 and 5. They also haven’t been able to capitalize on opportunities when presented with them. They Rangers haven’t been very good in this series and yet, they’re up 3-2. If you want proof, look no further than game 5. With the game tied at 2, Max Pacioretty had a breakaway late in the 3rd period but couldn’t beat Lundqvist. A couple of minutes later, Montreal went on the power play but could only muster 1 shot on goal. The game-winning OT goal by the Rangers may have been a lucky bounce but unlike the Habs, the Rangers were able to make the most of the opportunity.
A lot has been made of Pacioretty not scoring but this team is starving for offense, top to bottom. Pacioretty isn’t the only problem when it comes to the Habs and scoring.
THE CURSE OF BRUCE BOUDREAU IS REAL
It was comical before but now, not so much. After leading 3 different teams to successful regular seasons, Bruce Boudreau is on the verge of being behind the bench for another playoff disappointment. The Minnesota Wild trail the St. Louis Blues 3-1 and will most likely be ousted tonight. The series itself has been underwhelming to say the least but the fact that the Wild have only managed a goal-per-game against the Blues is mind-boggling. Going in to this series, the Wild were definitely the favoured team; they had the better offense and better goaltending but it’s been the Blues Jake Allen standing on his head. After having a resurgent season, Eric Staal has gone cold but he isn’t the only one. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter have all gone invisible and Devan Dubnyk hasn’t made the big saves when needed.
Matt Calvert slashes an unsuspecting Tom Kuhnhackl at the end of the Blue Jackets 4-1 loss to the Pens. Calvert only received a 1-game suspension for the slash. Video courtesy of Sportsnet.
Roman Polak goes down with a gruesome looking lower-body injury in the 2nd period of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals. Video courtesy of Sportsnet.
If there's one thing I love more than sports, it's sports in international competition format. On March 6th, The World Baseball Classic kicks off in Seoul, South Korea and will feature 16 teams. Below is the bracket for the entire tournament.
Wookiee, Chewbacca, wild man, animal; these are just a few of the nicknames San Jose Sharks defenceman, Brent Burns is known by. The 6’5, 230lbs heavily-bearded Burns is on pace to make history as only the second defenceman in the history of the NHL to win the Art Ross Trophy. Who was the first defenceman to win the Art Ross? Bobby Orr, of course.
Brent Burns currently has 66 points in 62 games, only 6 points behind League leader, Connor McDavid. There is no other defenceman in the top 10 in scoring, in fact, the second-highest scoring d-man as I write this is Erik Karlsson, all the way down at #21 in NHL scoring. What’s more remarkable than Burns’ point totals this year as a defenceman is the fact that he entered the league as a forward.
Burns grew up in Barrie, ON and spent most of his minor hockey career playing for the Barrie Icemen and Ajax Knights of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA). After stints in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), Burns played with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL in the 2002–03 season. He led the team in playoff scoring that season with five goals and six assists in 11 games.
The Minnesota Wild drafted the rugged winger 20th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Once he joined the Wild, notorious defensively-minded coach, Jacques Lemaire, converted Burns’ to defence. Because he was big and showed flashes of natural ability in rushing from the blueline, Lemaire thought the transition made sense. Burns adapted as a defenceman and earned a regular spot on the Wild roster for the 2005–06 season, contributing 16 points in 72 games. His point totals began to steadily rise and he was awarded with a 4-year contract extension in 2008.
Despite his success on the backend, he was regularly shifted between forward and defence with mild success. Eventually, Burns was hampered by a concussion that caused him to miss the final 19 games of the 2008-2009 regular season. The next few seasons with the Wild, Burns was plagued by injuries, notably a second concussion and shoulder surgery.
During the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Burns was traded to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick. In 2013, the Sharks acquired defenceman Matt Irwin, Burns was once again moved to forward, where he scored 20 points in 23 games. In August 2014, after a career of being shuttled between defence and forward, the Sharks announced that Burns would move to defence, permanently. The move proved to be beneficial for both the Sharks and Burns as he’s put up 60 plus points each season.
The mastery of Burns’ play is lost behind the fact that he plays on the West Coast, in a ‘non-traditional’ hockey market. This perception that any hockey market outside of Canada is perceived as non-traditional really irks me. Just because every single move isn’t scrutinized and over analyzed as it is here Canada, doesn’t mean that the appetite for the game isn’t as prominent in US. San Jose has been a perennial contender for years, they went to the Cup Final last season and their fans are diehard.
People also get distracted by Burns’ appearance. He’s covered in tattoos, missing his two front teeth, has a man bun and, of course, that glorious beard. He doesn’t fit the traditional hockey player mould of asymetrical haircuts, alibaster skin and sharp suits (see: Sidney Crosby). We hear the stories of how his home in St. Paul is named the ‘Burns Zoo’ due to his collection of dogs, cats and dozens of reptiles. These things combine to make some people not take Brent Burns very seriously, something that Burns isn’t all too concerned about.
When asked about Don Cherry’s comment that people don’t take Burns seriously because of his beard, this was his response: “I’ve always looked up to Navy SEALs, Green Berets; they’ve always had the big beards. The hockey players, you always see pictures from the playoffs — big beard. It’s been a thing for me. I’ve always felt more comfortable with it. I love having it. I don’t care what other people say about it.”
Poor Michel Therrien. He got dumped on Valentine’s Day only to find out that his now ‘ex’ got back together with their ‘ex.’ The same ‘ex’ that he got dumped for 14 years ago. Tuesday, February 14th marked the end of the second Michel Therrien era in Montreal and thus began the second Claude Julien era in La Belle Province.
The firing of Michel Therrien is about 9 months overdue—the truth is, he should have been fired at the end of last season. Instead, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin went to the media to assure them that Michel Therrien wasn’t going anywhere. He attributed the Canadiens downward spiral last season to Carey Price going down with a right knee injury in November. Losing Price for most of the 2015-2016 season did factor into the Canadiens’ finishing near the bottom of the League, but so did Therrien’s average coaching skills.
After beginning his NHL coaching career with Montreal in 2000, Therrien’s second stint as an NHL head coach came in December of 2005 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His first half-season with the Penguins was poor, with Pittsburgh amassing a 14-29-8 record. The following season, however, Therrien coached the Penguins to one of the most successful single-season improvements in NHL history, finishing with a 47–24–11 record (105 points), a berth in the 2007 playoffs and a nomination for the Jack Adams Award. The following season, the Penguins would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals but eventually lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 6 games. The 2008-2009 season would not be so kind to Therrien. During this time, Crosby was plagued with minor injuries which kept him out of the line-up. After a hot start, the Penguins entered a considerable slide and as a result, Therrien was fired in February 2009.
Therrien would make his return as the Canadiens’ bench boss in June 2012. His first season back was a successful one. The Habs finished first in the Northeast Division after finishing last the year before. In the 2013-2014, he led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals where they eventually lost to the New York Rangers in 6 games. Marc Bergevin was liking what he saw out of Therrien’s second go with Montreal and rewarded him with a 4-year contract extension, making Therrien the highest-paid coach in the history of the Canadiens. Cut to the 2015-2016 season, the Habs shot out to a 19-4-3 record before losing Carey Price to injury and ending the season with a .500 record and failing to make the playoffs.
Montreal got out to a fast start again this season, going 13-1-1 in their first 15 games, placing them comfortably atop the Atlantic Division. However, the Canadiens have been among the worst teams in the League since the start of 2017 and though they’re still first in the Atlantic, the team has been flat out bad. Price has been substandard, Weber’s cooled off and Plekanec has been a shell of his former self. Are you sensing a pattern here? Michel Therrien is an average coach who looks great when his superstars are firing on all cylinders but has no idea what to do they aren’t. He’s not a player’s coach; that much has been obvious this season. He had issues with Subban’s ‘personality,’ the Carey Price stare down and then the GM and players only meeting that was held last week. The fact that some people have found Therrien’s firing and Claude Julien’s hiring surprising is strange to me.
Even casual hockey observers could see that Michel Therrien was a huge part of the problem in Montreal over the past 2+ seasons. As for Claude Julien, hiring him makes the most sense. He’s been the best NHL head coach over the last 10 years, he comes from the rival Bruins and—he speaks French. Realistically, what other options did Marc Bergevin have? Not Gerard Gallant. He has limited NHL head coaching experience and had already served as Therrien’s assistant coach from 2012-2014. Ken Hitchcock? He doesn’t speak French, is almost 70 and has already hinted at retiring this year. Who else does that leave? Jack Capuano, Kirk Muller? Both don’t speak French and one has limited head coaching experience.
Bergevin needed someone who checked all the boxes to take a team that is sitting in first place with tons of talent and get them back on track. Claude Julien is that guy. There’s no way of knowing if Julien can be the type of coach for Montreal that he was for Boston but at this point, he was Montreal’s best option.
January 8th, 2017—Hamilton,ON—It’s been a few days since Canada lost gold to the Americans in a shootout at the 2017 World Junior Championships. Everyone in Canada lamented the fact that games, such as the gold medal game in an international tournament, should never be decided by a shootout. A feeling, I’d imagine, they would not have had Canada won instead of the U.S. We can debate ’til the cows come home about whether or not games of this magnitude should come down to a shootout. The fact remains that both teams had 80 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey to win the game and didn’t, so let’s put the shootout complaints to rest.
The best thing about the World Junior Championship, other than it taking place during Christmas break, is the wealth of talent on display. Being able to watch the future of hockey for 2 straight weeks is a victory in itself. Each team had at least one player who really had me take notice, so rather than dissect the entire tournament, I want to highlight the players who impressed me most.
JORDAN GREENWAY, 19, TEAM USA
I raved about Jordan Greenway on The Sports Hipster Podcast last week and for good reason. The 6’5 230lbs Canton, NY native was an absolute beast for the Americans the entire tournament. He had 8 points in 7 games and had a knack for getting under the opponents skin just enough without taking a penalty. Because of his size, defenders had a hard time containing him when he was driving to the net. He used his big frame to lean on defenders and wreak havoc in the slot. He was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Wild in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and he’s got Power Forward written all over him.
THOMAS CHABOT, 19, TEAM CANADA
While most of the talk was centred on Team Canada Captain, Dylan Strome and NYI draft pick Mat Barzal, it was Thomas Chabot that stood out for me. He led all defensemen in points in the tournament with 10, a total that also had him tied for the points lead on Team Canada. More than the points total was his knack for scoring clutch goals. He opened the scoring in the gold medal game against the U.S. then added another to give the Canadians a 4-2 lead midway through the 3rd period. The Ottawa Senators snagged Chabot at 18th overall in 2015 and once he’s finished in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs, he’ll no doubt be in the Senators top 4 come next season.
ALEXANDER NYLANDER, 18, TEAM SWEDEN
Alexander Nylander proved he’s not just William Nylander’s little brother at this year’s WJC. The 8th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in last year’s draft lead the entire World Junior Tournament in points with 12 in 7 games. He has all the makings to be an elite top 6 forward in the NHL. There were times where he was a magician with the puck on his stick and he made a lot of defenders, including Canada’s Jake Bean, look downright silly on the ice. He’s having a solid first pro season in the AHL with 17 points in 29 games and his time at this year’s WJC will no doubt bolster his confidence.
KIRILL KAPRIZOV, 19, TEAM RUSSIA
Nylander wasn’t alone at the top of the points leaderboard at the World Juniors, he had company in Kirill Kaprizov. The diminutive forward had 9 goals and 3 assists in 7 games and was a threat to score every time his skates touched the ice. At 5’9 and 185lbs, he still has some room to grow in order to compete in the NHL but the Minnesota Wild struck gold again at the draft table in 2015; selecting Kaprizov in the 5th round.
DAVID KASE, 19, TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC
The Czechs had a hard time scoring at this year’s WJC so point totals don’t really tell the whole story when it comes to Philadelphia Flyers prospect, David Kase. In 5 games, Kase put up 3 points but he’s got incredible skating ability and some slick hands. He’s currently playing with Chomutov Pirati in the Czech Extraliga where he has 7 points in 16 games so it’ll be interesting to see how he improves once he makes the move the North America.
AAPELI RASANEN, 18, TEAM FINLAND
It was a disappointing tournament for Finland but there were a few bright spots for the Suomi, one of those being Aapeli Rasanen. He didn’t blow the doors off in terms of points, he finished with 6 points in 6 games but it was his composer with the puck that stood out for me. A right-shooting centre, he also dominated the faceoff circle, averaging 18 draws per game and winning an impressive 67% of them.
MARTINS DZIERKALS, 19, TEAM LATVIA
The Latvians always seem to be the little engine that could at all these international hockey tournaments but they always seem to come up just short of making a real dent in the pack. They are filled with extremely talented players, however, like Marek Mitens, Renars Krastenbergs and Martins Dzierkals. Leafs fans should acquaint themselves quite nicely with Dzierkals, he was the Leafs 3rd round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He only notched 3 points in the WJC but for the past 2 years, he’s been plying his trade in the QMJHL with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies where he’s been a solid points-producer.
NICO HISCHIER, 18, TEAM SWITZERLAND
I absolutely loved watching Nico Hischier at this year’s WJC simply because of his high hockey IQ. Hischier just turned 18 on January 4th, but if watched him play at the World Juniors, you would have never guessed he was there as an ‘under-ager.’ He led the Swiss in scoring, almost single-handily beat the U.S. in the quarter-finals and was a dynamic skater. Because of his birthday, he wasn’t draft eligible until this year and I would be shocked if he gets taken past the 2nd round.
It's December which means it's BOWL TIME in College Football! Here is the full schedule:
Chalk one up for the little guys, or in this case, little guy. Mitch Marner stands 6’0 and weighs 170lbs soaking wet. He’s plays centre and was drafted 4th overall in 2015 by the Leafs. He was a dynamo in junior, plying his trade with the powerhouse London Knights for 3 years, racking up 301 points in 184 games. He was lauded for being an offensive star but pundits also deemed him to be too slight, not strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the big boys of the NHL. It would take time “they” said for him to fill out, get stronger and round into a complete NHL player.
Cut to 2016; Auston Matthews was all the rage. Matthews, the kid who grew up playing grassroots hockey in Arizona, who spurned conventional norms and went over to Europe to play professionally instead of going the college or major junior route. Matthews was going to be “the guy,” the one who the not-so-subtle tanking Leafs were going to scoop up first overall and tear up the league. It rang true, at least for 1 game. As if it was written in a script, Matthews had 4 goals in his NHL debut and immediately, sports media outlets everywhere were anointing him the “next one.”
No rookie in the history of the NHL has ever scored 4 goals in his NHL debut. The bar was set, this kid is must see TV. NBCSN suddenly began picking up the broadcast rights to Leafs games, something that would have been unimaginable a year ago. They were talking about him on the Dan Patrick Show; a daily, nationally broadcast sports radio show in the US that almost never talks about hockey. Do you know what comes with all the attention and spotlight? Pressure—lots of pressure. Auston Matthews is 19 years old, playing in one of the most overexposed sports markets in North America. Can you guess what happens to a 19 year old when an entire continent is focused on every move you make on the ice? That spotlight becomes brighter and brighter and that attention begins to sound louder and louder. The end result—a highly publicized scoring drought.
Did you already forget about Mitch Marner? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. The entire league, and to some extent the Maple Leafs, had made Marner a bit of an afterthought coming into this season. He’ll score a few goals, put up some points but hey, no pressure kid, you didn’t score 4 in your debut, we don’t expect the world of you. Since scoring 0 points in his NHL debut, Marner has 16 points (7G, 9A) in 17 games. He’s 1 point behind veteran James Van Riemsdyk for the Leafs scoring lead—oh, he also has 3 GWG, leading the Leafs in that category. It must be a nice feeling for Marner, playing without that pesky pressure. If Marner suddenly hits a 5-game scoring drought, a few people would notice, maybe even ask him about it a couple of times but there still won’t be that pressure. He wasn’t drafted first overall, he wasn’t expected to be the entire solution instead of being only a part of it. Anything Mitch Marner accomplishes this season will be considered a success because the expectations for him weren’t sky-high.
This isn’t a slight on Marner, in fact, it’s the opposite. I remember being at Leafs training camp in the summer of 2015 and while most people were focusing on William Nylander, I paid particular attention to Marner. I remember one dry land drill that all the prospects had to perform over and over and over again. One stick was laid down horizontally in front of each player and they had to sweep a puck around that stick without switching their stance. It was a monotonous and boring drill but I remembered watching Marner and he was so focused and honed in on this task. Even when the other players would stop and have a look of slight apathy on their faces, Marner kept his head down and never broke focus. I got the sense at that moment that Mitch Marner would be a very effective NHL player sooner rather than later.
Two weeks ago, I talked about how it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Marner be in the Calder conversation come the New Year. So far, he’s continued to prove me right. I covered the Leafs vs Panthers game on November 17th; it was my first opportunity to watch Marner, Matthews and the rest of the rookies in person. Watching Marner play live further galvanized my opinion of him; of course, this little play helped. He was good in all zones, was rarely knocked off the puck and his back checking was on point. The next time you’re wondering why Marner is outplaying Matthews so far in this young season just remember: It’s easier to play to your potential when the weight of expectation isn’t squarely on your shoulders.