Marner open to trying out defenseman role
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe raised eyebrows when he said he's considering experimenting with Mitch Marner as a defenseman, but the star winger seems up for the challenge.
"I'm open to all kinds of opportunities. Whatever (Keefe) is thinking, I'm not against anything," Marner said, according to NHL.com's Dave McCarthy. "So as soon as he gave me the heads-up, I was all-in with it and thought the idea was kind of a cool-thinking one."
Keefe said Thursday that Marner's been taking reps on the back end during training camp and could be used as a blue-liner situationally - if the Leafs are trailing late in a game, for example. Keefe credited the winger's two-way ability as a reason he's considering the unorthodox move.
"The more and more I watch the clips, that's what stands out," Keefe said. "So for me, it's knowing Mitch's skill set, and I've got a pretty good library of clips where he is actually playing defense. Even though he is a forward on that shift, he is in the defense spot, quarterbacking things and, at times, even defending, so that's sort of why we came to that conclusion."
Marner generally occupies the right wing on Toronto's top line and has duties on the power play and penalty kill. He, along with MVP Auston Matthews and Calder Trophy finalist Michael Bunting, made up one of the league's most dominant five-on-five trios last season.
Marner said chemistry with his potential defensive partner and odd-man rushes against are areas he'd need to address before giving the position a try in a game.
"I guess just trying to adapt with it, making sure I'm good enough to take on two-on-ones if it happens, three-on-twos, try to just communicate with whoever is out there with me as a D partner and talk about how we are going to try to attack and approach if odd-man rushes are coming against us," Marner said.
Marner is one of the league's top offensive playmakers. He racked up a career-high 97 points last season and has 455 points in 427 contests since being drafted fourth overall in 2015.
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