After his breakout rookie campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mitch Marner hit the gym nearly every day this summer hoping to improve his arsenal for his sophomore season. With the permission of the Leafs, Marner returned to the Hill Performance Centre north of Toronto, where he’s trained since he was a teenager who faced endless doubts about his size and ability to make it to the game’s highest levels. One morning, as Marner was chasing back squats with 42-inch hurdle jumps, Doug Gilmour dropped in to see him. He shook his head in disbelief at the power the 20-year-old right winger displayed. Marner wasn’t even alive when Gilmour was in his prime. He was only six when Gilmour retired in 2003. But when Marner started with the London Knights, he chose No. 93 in tribute to the player his father had always told him to model his game after. Marner grew up watching highlights of and hearing stories about Gilmour’s unique mix of skill and grit. During his rise from the CHL to the biggest stage in hockey, Marner has drawn comparisons to the elder 93. Like Marner, Gilmour faced doubts within the hockey establishment about whether he was big enough to compete at the game’s highest level. (The Hall of Famer was drafted 134th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 1982.) Both overcame those doubts to become premier playmakers in the game. Gilmour told Marner that he was impressed with the way he’d managed his first season in the Toronto spotlight. “For me expectations were low,” Gilmour told Marner, recalling his rookie season in St. Louis. “I just wanted to fit in, and I wanted to make it.” Marner faced a lot more pressure a lot more quickly. But far from being overburdened by expectations as a fourth-overall pick for a marquee franchise, Marner seemed right at home in his first NHL season.
When Marner met Gilmour: Talking small statures, big expectations
Sportsnet | Sep 23