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2015 NHL Mock Draft: Toronto selects Mitch Marner with No. 4 pick

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With the fourth overall selection, Toronto is proud to select, from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, Mitch Marner.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

There's little stopping the Toronto Maple Leafs from drafting Mitch Marner at fourth overall, except maybe the Coyotes, so when Arizona selected Dylan Strome at third overall, it really came down to two players: Mitch Marner or Noah Hanifin.

In the end, the Leafs newfound drafting philosophy, consistent remarks from managers Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas that present skill as being first and foremost, and Marner's connections to former London Knights brass Lindsay Hofford (now an amateur scout with the Leafs, formerly London's Director of Scouting and Marner's AAA coach) and Mark Hunter (London GM turned Leafs Director of Player Development), made it seem like the obvious choice.

In fact, Marner expressed that the Leafs were his "big" interview at the Combine before mentioning Hofford as a mentor in a recent Hockey Night in Canada interview with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.

Marner is a diminutive (not so much in stature anymore after measuring in at 5-11 at the Scouting Combine, but in weight and strength), uber-talented forward who has played both centre and the wing but projects more as a wing.

His size, has proven not to yet be an issue and shouldn't prohibit him from being a dynamic offensive threat at the NHL level. By virtue of Marner's incredible ability to weave through traffic, alter his speed, and stop/pivot on a dime, he is able to out-maneuver bigger, stronger defenders.

And while he will almost certainly return to a strong 2015-2016 London Knights team to prove he can carry the load, potentially without top Coyotes prospects and frequent linemates Max Domi and Christian Dvorak, Marner projects as a top six winger with first line upside.

This season, in London, Marner led the potent Knights offence in scoring and finished second in the league in scoring behind Strome, collecting 126 points in 63 games (2 PPG) before playing some of his best hockey in a the playoffs, registering another 16 points (including nine goals) in seven games before being swept by the Erie Otters.

Offensively, his numbers were among the CHL's best at even strength and on the man-advantage, finishing third in the OHL in estimated points per 60 minutes (4.69) behind McDavid and Strome and second, ahead of Strome, in age adjusted points per game (1.88).

And don't be fooled, the Leafs have made it clear that the system already having a similar player in William Nylander doesn't change that the team needs as much skill as they can acquire. Marner gives them another blue chip forward prospect as the rebuild gets underway.

Like Nylander, Marner's best quality is his ability to change speeds and carry the puck. Marner is unquestionably one of the 2015 NHL Draft's best stickhandlers, and his awareness with the puck on his stick opens up options for teammates.

Notice the way he waits for the defender to bite with a stick check rather than taking the body so that he can beat him with a single quick move.

And notice, earlier in that same game, the way Marner is able to break down a team in a complete different way, this time with a cross seam pass to force defenders away from him in order to get it back.

Here's a complete scouting report:

Mitch Marner, London Knights:

Slick hands and elite footwork help Marner evade contact in tight .. calm playmaker, one of the most patient players in the class with the puck .. despite a slender appearance on the ice, Marner consistently outsmarts his opponents to beat them .. anticipates the play well which creates spacing when he receives the puck off the rush .. has a tendency to get caught running around in his own zone on a poor defensive team in London but he competes hard on loose pucks .. strong reflexes and instincts allow him to create at full speed .. skates hard and uses his stick to win puck battles .. hard on the backcheck and he comes deep in the defensive zone to retrieve pucks .. loves to find teammates on his backhand .. played the wing on the powerplay and the majority of the year on a dominant line with Max Domi .. effective on the wing or at centre due to his creativity.

Barring any trades, we will make our next selection in the SB Nation NHL Mock Draft on June 19 at 24th overall.