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Dermott, Marner On Their Development This Season

The Leafs' main mode of communication with Dermott? Text message.

Graig Abel/Getty Images

For a young man whose team had been eliminated from playoff contention by the London Knights less than an hour before being interviewed, Travis Dermott was remarkably patient and open to answering questions. Really, there was no reason for him not to be proud of the season his team just had, as the Otters finished the regular season as the top team in the league (edging out the London Knights with more wins) with him as their main stalwart on defence. All the same, it was good to see him hold his head high.

Asked if he was happy with his own development, he offered some good insight into his recently-ended season:

"My 'D' coach has helped me a lot, [also] my forward coach and head coach, but I feel like I work a lot with BJ [Adams, assistant coach] on different small aspects of the game. I feel like come this level, most guys have the same basic skill level, but it's the little skills that separate them ... like getting a shot off quick."

While his Erie coaches work on certain elements of Dermott's game, he is also getting no shortage of feedback from management in Toronto.

"Yeah, they came down here once to work with me on skills stuff, but they usually just send me text messages after games, you know, maybe ream me out a bit," he says with a genuine laugh. "They watch a lot of video."

Around the corner from the Otters' team bus, the Knights' dressing room was a different atmosphere altogether. Pounding music, yelling, laughing, and beaming Knight parents spilled into the media area, and Mitchell Marner found himself predictably surrounded by reporters looking for a word with the Knight's star.

Although he is emphatic that his mind is entirely focused on London's current playoff run and not on what may lie ahead with the Toronto Maple Leafs' organization, Marner did allow that he felt he has made good progress so far this season on his defensive play.

"Yeah, I feel like I'm getting better at that," he begins, " ... but I want to keep getting more reliable," he quickly adds, suggesting he understands how much work he still has to do in order to become a regular on the Leafs' roster. "I feel like the last couple months [in particular], I've really worked hard, and I feel like I'm getting better."

To anyone watching his play closely, this is an entirely accurate statement. Marner's defensive awareness in all three zones has dramatically improved this season, and despite the fact that he plays right wing, he is often the first man on his line to fall back to cover a defender, provide backside pressure, and even to swoop low and recover a puck for a besieged defender. Moreover, he reads plays so well that he can anticipate where the puck will be well before it gets there, helping him break up plays well before they become dangerous.

Despite the party going on around him, Marner answers every question thrown his way with the same level head and even tone. Like Dermott, he is patient, and waits until everyone's questions have been answered before rejoining his team.

For Leafs' fans, it has to be reassuring to hear that the Leafs are so involved in the development of their OHL prospects, but it's also worth noting that in addition to developing as players on the ice, all signs point to them developing as professionals off the ice as well.