Mitch Marner – London Knights
Just when you think the hype around Marner couldn’t get any crazier, he goes and has a month like he did in November. Last week, Marner was named the OHL’s player of the month after putting up 27 points in only 10 games.
Maybe he just had to adapt his game back to the junior level, but for whatever reason Marner was off to a bit of a slow start in London. After a couple of weeks of experimenting with lines, Knights coach Dale Hunter started playing Marner on the wing a lot more with Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak. The instant chemistry created one of the best lines in junior hockey. The line has looked electrifying on almost every shift. Add a tonne of time on both the top power play and penalty kill units, and Marner showing he’s become the top go-to guy in the OHL.
Of the 27 points Marner put up in November, 20 of them were either goals or primary assists. He is definitely not cooling off — Marner has added a gaudy nine goals in his past five games and up to 11 points in just three December games. He is tied for the OHL scoring lead with Dvorak and may remain on top even after missing a month to join Team Canada, as the top seven on the OHL point list are all expected to be representing their country at the World Juniors.
This month will be exciting for Marner and for Leafs fans as he figures to be a large part of Team Canada’s offense when the tournament starts on Boxing Day. With Team Canada’s depth at center, I have projected Marner on the right wing next to Dylan Strome and Lawson Crouse. Strome plays a game that is very similar to Matthew Tkachuk’s, so playing the two together is an attempt to replicate the success in London. Regardless of where he plays, Marner will be on the team and Leafs fans will have a chance to get a long look at a guy who is likely their best prospect since 1967.
Travis Dermott – Erie Otters
Here’s another Maple Leafs prospect that had a huge month in November. Travis Dermott was named the OHL’s defenceman of the month after helping the Erie Otters to an 11-1 record.
While the points weren’t there earlier in the season, Dermott still looked very good, and finally this past month he broke through on the scoresheet with 15 points in 12 November games. The great play in November and early December has put Dermott into the conversation for Canada’s World Junior team. He was invited to the camp, and while I have written that I think he still might not make the team, I believe that a strong tryout could land him the LD spot on Canada’s third pairing.
His odds significantly improved with Vince Dunn — a LD with a similar skillset in direct competition for the spot — taken out of the mix due to injury.
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) December 11, 2015
Whether he makes the team or not, Dermott has shown that he is one of the best defenders in the OHL and that the Leafs might finally have found a second round pick who can contribute down the road. He’s a great two-way defender who often gets his defensive play overlooked because of his exceptional puckmoving ability. If developed properly, Dermott could turn into a mainstay on the Leafs blue line in a few years.
Jeremy Bracco – Kitchener Rangers
Last week Jeremy Bracco was in the center of some controversy as he did not recieve an invite to try out for the American World Junior team. There was lots of speculation as to why he was left off the team — ranging from height-bias to NCAA/CHL politics — but I believe it’s as simple as a differing of talent evaluation. Add this to the fact that he dropped significantly lower in the draft last summer than many expected, and it’s evident that some people simply aren’t as high on Bracco’s game as other are.
After making the jump from Boston College to the OHL, Bracco has looked outstanding at times playing on the first-place Kitchener Rangers but has also shown an inconsistency that is a little alarming. It’s nothing serious as he is transitioning to a new league with new teammates, but Bracco has gone long stretches without scoring and will be looked upon to play at a more consistent level as the Rangers battle through a torturous schedule in the second half.
The true test to Bracco’s season will be in January and February when the Rangers face off against London and Erie an absurd number of times as the three teams go after the top seed in the OHL playoffs. Bracco has produced a lot of powerplay points, but will need to show he is also able to chip in five on five if he wants to remain on the team’s top line with Ryan McInnis and Mason Kohn. Bracco has shown he has the raw talent to be a tremendous hockey player; now, he is going to have to show he is able to develop it to be ready for the pro game. Bracco is a long way from being on the Maple Leafs radar, and that’s a good thing for his development. The rest of this year and next will be a good barometer to measure whether or not Bracco truly is the steal so many fans in Toronto are hoping for.