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Marner Hoping To Improve Defensive Game

Leafs' prospect chatted with reporters for a few minutes following practice today.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As the media assembles around him at the rookie tournament in London, Ontario, Mitch Marner waits patiently to be asked questions and for cameras to get set up. "Want to try some stand-up?" someone asks. "I got nothing," he shrugs, with a smile."No jokes. I got no jokes." At least if he doesn't crave the spotlight, he doesn't shy away from it, either.

After scoring 126 points for the London Knights of the OHL, Mitch Marner might appear to have little left to learn at the OHL level. "[I'm going to] push for a defensive role," he says. "I was obviously happy with my points, but two years in a row, trying to get to that mark is pretty hard, so next year if I wind up back here, it's [in] more of a leadership role ... You know, helping the younger guys out. Try to build them up so that they can make the OHL in their first year, get drafted high and have a good chance."

Adding muscle will be a big part of his efforts to improve defensively. "Yeah, working out every day is going to be mandatory for me. I gotta get stronger, I know that. You know, putting the right muscle on, the right weight on, that's the most important thing. ... I want to go in at a weight I feel comfortable skating at. That's my game, skating, and using my speed, so I've got to make sure that's OK first, and then build off that."

Marner says he is in constant communication with the Leafs about his training, but also says that he has a trainer in London. At this point, he says he knows what he needs to do: "I need to eat more, I need to put the muscle on and work out. I can't take days off this year."

He adds that he doesn't feel that he gets pushed around, even while playing among older, potentially more developed prospects, but he also felt that he wasn't holding on to the puck as long as he normally does, and that he had 'got away from his game'. "I need to hold onto [the puck] a little longer and control the play, but that comes with patience. But it was my first game ... I was jittery, I was throwing the puck around a lot. As time went on I think got more comfortable."

At least for now, Marner can take some comfort in the fact that he is playing in his home rink in London. "Yeah, i's kind of funny, I've seen a couple guys, and been joking around with a couple guys on the team. It's a bit funny being in that dressing room with a different jersey on, but it's fun for sure."

On the difference between the games with Team Canada and this rookie tournament, he says that it's quite different. "I'd say it's harder competition out here ... it's a lot more physical out here, I'd say. It's your first game in a while and everyone's got to get their first couple shifts to get their legs going, but I felt after the first period ... our team started playing better, started playing more offensively, and if we just got a couple more bounces, stuff would have gone different."

"I think I had a little bit of nerves going in," he says. "I needed to make an adjustment. I mean, to fill in as centreman more, and you know, it's been a while since I've done that. Obviously last playoffs [with the Knights] was the last time I played centre. The World Juniors I did a little bit, but yeah, I kind of need to get back into that role and build off that. There are a lot of strong guys here, and that's kind of the difference between here and the World Juniors. ... Here, you have to bear down more on faceoffs and be stronger on the puck."