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2021 NHL Draft Profile: Ayrton Martino

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Martino is one of the most fun and high octane offensive forwards in this draft

2015 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

For the introduction to this prospect profile, I’m going to tell a little story. I am a subscriber to Will Scouch’s Patreon. That gets me access to, among other things, his private Discord channel. It’s full of other scouting people and enthusiasts like me to talk about prospects, hockey at large, and other general things. I like it because I see the conversations and debates from actual scouting people on prospects through the year.

Through pretty much the whole season this year, they’ve been talking about Ayrton Martino. He’s been a favourite of the group for being just all kinds of fun, and one of the common things said about him was “oh there’s another breakaway for Martino”. I thought it was a bit of an exaggerated joke, almost a meme. Then I watched one of his games and in the first 10 minutes he had two breakaways and another partial breakaway.

“Fun” is a good way to describe Martino. In the profile for Ville Koivunen I wrote that he was a jack of all trades who did not have a clearly elite skill, but was good to very good across the board. Martino seems like the opposite, in that he has some very standout skills and all of them are on the offensive side of the game. It helps him rack up points and get on highlight reels, making him very noticeable in a good way.

But points and flash are all well and good, but it usually takes more than that to succeed in the NHL. There has been a litany of offensive talents who couldn’t even make the NHL, let alone have an impact there. Jeremy Bracco comes to mind.

THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT

Ayrton Martino is a 5’10” winger, and he’s a local Toronto boy. He is a player who did not play nearly as many games as he would have in a normal year, as he was set to play in the BCHL before their season was cancelled due to COVID. Instead, he hopped over to the USHL in order to maintain his NCAA eligibility as a Clarkson University commit.

He played 38 games, and scored 18 goals with 56 total points. That was good for 8th in total points despite most players ahead of him playing 50+ games. As a result, his points per game pace of 1.47 finished 4th in the league behind Sean Farrell (2020 draft pick), Matthew Coronato (projected 1st round pick this year), and Cole Sillinger (projected top 15 pick this year). So the guy can rack up points.

In fact, his previous year he played in the OJHL, the same league where the Leafs took Ryan Tverberg late in the 7th round last year. That season, Tverberg finished 37th in the league with 51 points in 47 games. Martino, who was a year younger than Tverberg, finished third in the league with 79 points in 48 games. The two players who finished ahead of him were both 1999 birthdays, three years older than Martino.

Martino has simply been an offensive star everywhere he’s played. Until this year, he would have been an interesting case of a guy who would probably be scoring a ridiculous amount of points in a less heralded league like the BCHL. Instead, because of COVID, he wound up scoring tons of points in the USHL, which has become one of the better junior leagues in the world. That gives him a better sense of credibility.

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: 47th
  • Will Scouch: 28th
  • Scott Wheeler: 31st
  • Elite Prospects: 48th
  • Dobber Prospects: 32nd
  • Smaht Scouting: 27th

THE GOOD: HIGH DANGER OFFENSE

So after seeing his point totals, you can safely assume that Martino is good at that offense thing. And this is true, but it goes beyond the joke about him getting so many breakaways. His game is all about driving high danger offensive chances for himself and his team. This requires him to have a certain set of skills to pull off: he is a good passer, puck handler, agile skating, and constant movement.

Normally I’d start with a guy’s shot or passing to describe how effective he is offensively, but with Martino I don’t think that’s actually his best offensive skill. For me, the one thing that I noticed the most is that he is always moving. He is not static in the offensive zone, whether he has the puck or not. He’s not necessarily skating all out, but doing what I can only describe as “aggressively coasting” around the ice. He cuts through defenders in the middle of the ice, rather than just circling around the perimeter. If he goes to the perimeter, it seems to be only temporary as he sheds defenders so he can come back unguarded and find a new soft spot in the slot. He applies this in transition too, and it’s what I think helps him get so many breakaways at his level: he is ready, at a moment’s notice, to spring into action and receive a breakout pass behind the defense. I wouldn’t quite call it cherry picking or fleeing the zone, but it’s close. I’d call it more a lightning-quick switch to transition.

Here’s what Joel Henderson at Future Considerations wrote in a scouting report .

This is definitely the kind of player who you can describe as slippery. In the neutral zone he is constantly turning so as to not lose momentum. He is always aware of who has the puck and his positioning since he wants to receive a pass already moving with speed towards the Ozone. Whether that is jumping the zone or just a few strides to start him off, he wants to be dangerous immediately. He has short crossover strides and he doesn’t use the length or power of his stride anywhere near to what he could but relies on his constant motion and shifting positioning to be elusive. It helps him be deceptive too but its hard to keep check on a player who never stands still.

That lightning-switch, that constant motion, is all tied to Martino’s focus (conscious or otherwise) to constantly seek high danger offense. He is not content at passing around or shooting from the perimeter. He wants to pass the puck into the slot, or receive a pass in the slot for a better shot. The above clip is a good example of him using a smart pass on a give and go, elusive skating, and aggressive movement into the slot where he had a clear chance. Here’s what Tony Ferrari at Dobber Prospects says:

Attack, attack, attack. That’s the mindset the former OJHL star plays with. The slightly undersized forward plays with pace, pushing defenses to try and get in his face to slow him down but he has the requisite skill to make things difficult and get to scoring areas. Off puck, he is a slash-and-dash player who attacks the middle of the ice over and over but rarely sits down in a spot. The game is becoming more free-flowing and dynamic and Martino is a player that exemplifies that. He jumps for offense a bit at times but as a winger, he does a job of identifying when to do it. His biggest strength comes from how versatile he is in the offensive zone. Whether it be on the rush or patrolling in-and-out of space in the offensive zone, Martino has no issue generating offense. The cerebral winger could be a big point-getter at the NHL level if he can get into a situation with a center who wants to push the pace and overwhelm opposing defensive units.

What helps Martino pull off this mindset of constantly attacking on offense is his passing. He has good vision to spot open teammates who are open for a good scoring chance. But he also combines that with elusive skating and creative puck handling to get around defenders for a better passing opportunity. Here’s what Paul Zuk at Smaht Scouting says:

Martino is an extremely talented, creative passer of the puck. He always seems to look for the most unique ways to distribute the puck to his teammates (i.e. bank pass, wrap around pass, etc.), and more often than not, is successful at executing those difficult setups.

As talented of a passer Martino is, he’s just as excellent at being a playmaker. He loves to push the play out wide when breaking into the offensive the zone, allowing him the most space possible to set up his linemates with a beautiful pass or a scoring chance in tight.

And this is borne out in Martino’s manually tracked data. If you watch Will Scouch’s profile below, he will rattle off several metrics about how much offense he drives through dangerous shots and shot assists he generates. He is simply a high-efficient machine for both shots and passing in high danger areas.

THE FLAWS: WITHOUT-THE-PUCK PLAY

Unlike Ville Koivunen, Martino does seem to have clear weaknesses. While he can be aggressive in forechecking, forcing turnovers, and trying to pick off passes, he is not very active defensively. In the game I saw of him late in the season, he wasn’t as fluid in the defensive zone as he was in the offensive zone. All that aggressiveness and constant movement, waiting to explode when the opportunity arrived was there... but only sometimes. The other times he was more passive in his defense.

Watching Will Scouch’s video above, he notes that this is something that was worse earlier in the year, and something he did improve over time. He would explode into activity when it was time to transition to offense, especially to seek breakaway chances. I’m hesitant to say that this is an issue of ability or being able to think the game defensively, because physically he can be aggressive in pursuing a puck carrier and cause a turnover. And as this interview clip shows, mentally he does seem able to process the play and make good, smart and instinctive reactions:

But those are all excuses that have been said about untold forward prospects in the history of hockey, and not all of them ever did improve defensively enough to overcome it. I’m no prophet, so at best all I can do is remark that this might be something he can improve with the right mindset and the right coaching. For what it’s worth, he did show some improvement over this season already, but that only got him to a level that I would describe as “good”. And even if he does improve more over time, it would probably have to be quite dramatic for him to be considered a two-way forward in higher levels. From Dylan Kirill at Future Considerations:

I’d like to see him be more engaged in the defensive zone and challenge opponents more. He applied good pressure and was able to make a nice takeaway with a stick lift, but it just wasn’t consistent enough. It seems like he’s thinking about what he’s going to do in the offensive zone before even having the puck, which concerns me a little about his defensive awareness.

Another issue that seems to crop up is that Martino, despite being a “breakaway specialist”, is not really elite through the neutral zone outside of it. When it comes to carrying or passing the puck through on zone exits or zone entries, his efficiency drops to a level that is still good. Just not as good as you’d like or expect. This is an area that I am more confident he can improve this over time. He is a good passer and puck handler, and elusive in his skating. What I think will help him is working on that skating to be a bit faster and more explosive, and getting coached on effective transition systems.

The final weakness that I admit I’m more worried about than I should be is his shot. Martino scores goals at a strong rate, but most of that comes simply from taking tons of shots in dangerous areas. He is not by any means a sniper, and doesn’t have an elite shot. From Josh Tessler again:

While Martino’s offensive game is quite polished at this point, there are a few areas of his game he can look to bolster during the next couple of seasons. For instance, there are times where he struggles a little bit with his shot accuracy. It’s interesting to think about where his point totals could have been this past season if his accuracy was more consistent.

In many ways, his offensive game reminds me a lot of Mitch Marner. At the USHL level, Martino is an excellent play maker to set up shots for teammates, and will position himself in dangerous areas to get his own good chances. Marner is more the former than the latter, but I do wonder if Martino will be forced to turn into more of the former as he plays in higher levels simply due to better defenses and bigger, stronger opposition.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

Ayrton Martino would not be my first choice for the Leafs to select with their second round pick, but he would be one of my favourite picks. He is simply fun to watch, and as the Leafs have shown in two straight playoff series, they could always use more high danger offense. Imagine Martino slinging passes to Nick Robertson on a third line? That sounds awful swell.

What also sounds swell is potentially being able to trade down and get Martino and another interesting prospect. While his offense is fun and exciting, I do have some misgivings about his game — though when you get to the late second round, they’re all going to have flaws. Being able to pick up a player with that much promise on the offensive side of the game is a good gamble for me, and if a couple of players I like ahead of him are gone, I would not be upset with Martino being the Leafs’ choice.

I do see a poor man’s version of Marner in Martino’s game. But Marner is bigger, a better skater, even more ridiculous in his offensive generation, and actually pretty good defensively in the NHL. Martino can work to improve in every area of his abilities, but he won’t reach Marner’s status. Likely, not by far. I can see him becoming a good, complimentary offensive winger in the middle of the lineup.