Auston Matthews might get the headlines, but Mitch Marner is the player that gets the most respect from his peers. The skilled and smooth forward will be sidelined for a minimum of four weeks after suffering a high-ankle sprain last Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Marner was in so much pain that he told reporters he expected his ankle to “kind of be facing the wrong direction” when he injured it six days ago.
The injury, which had Marner in a walking boot as recently as Tuesday, could have been a lot worse. It’s opportunistic for the Boston Bruins, however, who will get to face their rival without Marner in Toronto this evening. Marner scored the overtime winner when the sides met a month ago.
Of course, no one ever wants to see a player get hurt. The game tonight will be lacking one of the most skilled forwards in the entire NHL, and will be worse off for it. The Bruins understand that the Maple Leafs will be missing one of their top weapons. They addressed that fact after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Thursday.
“He’s such a great player. Just his puck control, the way he just finds that open ice and just turns in the zone and finds late guys coming in, making those plays that you don’t think are there,” Charlie Coyle told BHN’s Jimmy Murphy when asked what the Maple Leafs will be missing without Marner.
Coyle took it a step further, continuing to heap praise on Toronto’s top forward. “He’s a special player, he does a lot for them.”
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk has had the tough task of going up head-to-head against Marner over the years. He agreed with Coyle when asked what Marner does so well. “He possesses the puck so well. He’s such a great skater, plays with his head up, he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice,” he told Murphy.
It should come as no surprise that both Coyle and Grzelcyk lauded the speed and puck handling ability of Marner. After all, he’s known as one of the game’s fastest players and is the lightning to Matthews’ thunder up front for the Maple Leafs. He has the elite vision and creates the chances, while Matthews cashes them in with his elite shot.
“They have a lot of good pieces that can make plays but he’s up there, he’s a special player,” Grzelcyk said. Grzelcyk would know. After all, he’s gone up against elite players like Matthews, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov plenty in his young career.
“Obviously when he is out there, you have to take note of him. He’s doing a lot of things to carry the mail for their team, so obviously it hurts them to not have him in the lineup,” continued Grzelcyk, who also praised Marner’s work on the powerplay.
The Maple Leafs powerplay has scored 12 goals this season, good for 17th in the league. Their 17.6% success rate ranks 20th in the NHL. Marner’s loss won’t help them recover in this area, especially against a Bruins team that is killing 79.9% of penalties taken.
You’ll notice one word in particular that stands out in both Coyle and Grzelcyk’s evaluations of Marner. The word special. It gets tossed around a little more than it should nowadays, but Marner certainly fits the bill. His peers around the NHL, and on his team’s biggest rival, feel he is worthy of that honor. That tells you everything you need to know about what the Bruins think about Marner.