The real draft starts at 3rd overall this year with Arizona, and any one of Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome, or Mitch Marner will be up for grabs. In all likelihood, it will either be Hanifin or Strome being chosen by Arizona because they play in the big and tough western conference and need players with size to compete. Marner is a little on the smaller side, which means he will probably be available to the Leafs at 4th overall. Him being chosen at 3rd definitely is a possibility; however the odds are not so great because of his size.
I've already discussed how the draft order is affected by the Oilers drafting 1st and how Marner looks to be Patrick Kane's clone, so a lot has been said about this situation. The fact is that Marner is a highly skilled player that is only available at 4th overall in this years draft because of the generational talents of McDavid and Eichel. In any other draft year without generational talents he would be pushing for a 1st overall selection, or at least be guaranteed to be taken in the top 3.
There are connections to be made between Marner and Leafs management, which has caused some hockey minds to believe Toronto would draft him over Strome or Hanifin (depending who Arizona takes). That would take guts to draft skill over size, but the Leafs did that last year when they drafted William Nylander over Nick Ritchie (even though Leafs fans showed their displeasure). Sportsnet's Elliot Friedman asked Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas wether he would pass on Marner because of his size, and Dubas quickly disagreed. He said:
“Here’s the way I look at it, right now, we aren't good enough to be picky about smaller players. We need as many elite players as we can. If we get into playoffs and are too small, or overwhelmed, it’s easier to trade small for size than draft for size and trade for skill.”
Smart quote, and he is hinting now that Toronto is leaning towards the smaller Marner with their pick. It would guarantee the Leafs a number one centre for the future, and a star player. Not only does Marner have Dubas' liking, but has the Leafs other assistant GM Mark Hunter's as well. For many years Hunter was the GM of the OHL's London Knights, the team Marner currently plays for. It was Hunter who drafted him to the Knights and watched him develop there, and the familiarity with the prospect could mean they choose him with the 4th pick. Team President Brendan Shanahan hired both assistant GM's before the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, and he has much faith in them. Both have shown amazing drafting and developing skills as GM's in the OHL, and their jump to the NHL is no surprise. Shanahan trusts them completely and they are making every decision about the team together. If Dubas and Hunter tell Shanahan that Marner is their guy, then no matter who is available Brendan will go up on draft day and call the London Knights centres name.
Kyle Dubas with team president Brendan Shanahan
In an article by Mike johnston of Sportsnet, Marner (a Toronto native) expresses his dream of being drafted by his hometown Maple Leafs. “That would be a dream come true for me personally" he said, also adding “I’ve lived there my whole life. You want to be a guy that helps the city out and you want to take that team into the playoffs, so I’ve thought about it a couple times." That is an added bonus for the Leafs, having a player that wants to pull the Maple Leaf jersey over his head and understands the pride that comes with playing in the centre of the hockey universe. Strome has the same understanding as well, as he grew up in the suburb of Mississauga, and grew up a huge Leafs fan. It would be a wise choice to draft and develop a hometown kid, as the excitement they have playing for their home team may be a development booster. The Ottawa Senators had 5 Ottawa natives on their roster this season. The Montreal Canadiens have a drafting philosophy where if there are two equally talented players available at their pick, and one's a Quebec native and speaks french; they take the french kid. Maple Leafs assistant GM's Dubas and Hunter understand the power of drafting hometown Canadian kids, and this is the year they might start doing just that, starting with Mitch Marner.
In the end Dubas and Hunter have proven their exceptional drafting skills as General Managers in the OHL, but this is their first real test in the NHL. Based on the Leafs need for a number one centre, the connections Marner has to Hunter, and the quote stated by Dubas, it seems that Mitch Marner is the Leafs 4th overall selection in this years draft (given Arizona doesn't take him). No matter who they draft, they really can't miss with this pick. Leafs fans are calling for Strome's name at the draft, but the reality is even if he's available or taken at 3rd overall, Marner's our guy.