Leafs’ top scorer is day-to-day

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTING LIFE - JONAS SIEGEL

He’s yet to miss a game be­cause of an ap­par­ent right shoul­der in­jury but that hasn’t stopped team­mates from be­ing asked what it might be like with­out ex­cit­ing rookie Mitch Marner at the rink.

“I mean, he’s still here,” vet­eran cen­tre Tyler Bozak said cheer­fully. “He’s not gone for good. We still see him every day!”

Marner, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top scorer, didn’t prac­tise Fri­day morn­ing but head coach Mike Bab­cock was still hope­ful he’d be avail­able to play Satur­day against the Ottawa Se­na­tors. The 19-year-old is listed as dayto-day, which would sug­gest Marner will avoid miss­ing sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time.

“Ob­vi­ously, if I’m in charge he’s in,” Bab­cock said of Satur­day’s game, a date against the Carolina Hur­ri­canes to fol­low Sun­day. “If the doc­tors are in charge, they’ll de­cide (Satur­day).”

Marner was in­jured Wed­nes­day night when he fell awk­wardly into the boards dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod of a 5-2 loss to the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets. He re­turned to play two shifts in the third be­fore ex­it­ing for good.

His ab­sence, even for a game, would surely be felt by the Leafs (63 points), who en­ter Fri­day’s play hold­ing down the Eastern Con­fer­ence’s fi­nal wild-card spot just one point ahead of the New York Is­lan­ders and two in front of the Philadelphia Fly­ers. Toronto is also one point be­hind the Bos­ton Bru­ins (64) and two in back of Ottawa for the fi­nal two At­lantic Di­vi­sion play­off spots.

Marner is en­joy­ing a great sea­son, on pace to smash the fran­chise rookie records for most points and as­sists. He’s lead­ing Toronto in both cat­e­gories with 3 3 as­sists and 48 points in 56 games, and tied with Winnipeg’s Pa­trik Laine for tops in NHL rookie scor­ing.

A shifty winger of con­sid­er­able skill, vi­sion and wily pass­ing abil­ity, Marner has been espe­cially po­tent since Jan. 1, record­ing 22 points in 21 games. He’s a point be­hind Con­nor McDavid in that stretch, and tied for 10th among all NHL play­ers en­ter­ing Fri­day’s play.

Bab­cock de­scribes Marner as the driv­ing force of a line that in­cludes vet­er­ans Bozak and James van Riems­dyk.

“He’s a huge part of our team, ob­vi­ously,” van Riems­dyk said. “You’ve seen the kind of suc­cess that he’s had al­ready.

“It’s just an op­por­tu­nity for other guys to step up now and play dif­fer­ent roles if that’s the case and we’ll just see what hap­pens and go from there.”

Con­nor Brown slid into Marner’s usual spot at prac­tice Fri­day and would play there if Marner can’t go against the Se­na­tors. Surg­ing 23-year-old Josh Leivo would stand to take his spot on the power play with rookie Nikita Sosh­nikov also get­ting back into the lineup po­ten­tially after sit­ting re­cently due to in­jury.

Scratched a great deal this sea­son, Leivo re­sponded with a rare op­por­tu­nity to play this week. He’s flour­ished with five points in two games, in­clud­ing a ca­reer­high three points in a 7-1 win Tues­day over the Is­lan­ders.

Bab­cock called Leivo the team’s best for­ward “by far” when he pro­duced two as­sists against Colum­bus.

Brown, mean­while, has reg­is­tered 12 goals and 24 points in his rookie year. Bab­cock in­tended for the 23-year-old to be­gin the year along­side Bozak and van Riems­dyk be­fore Marner came along and al­tered those plans.

Whether Marner plays or not, Toronto will be look­ing for a bet­ter show­ing Satur­day, in­clud­ing from van Riems­dyk, benched briefly in the loss to Colum­bus.

The Leafs en­ter the di­vi­sion tilt with Ottawa hav­ing lost seven of their last 10 games.

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