SUNRISE, Fla. — Mitch Marner had a double homecoming, of sorts, on Friday night.
Marner was drafted fourth overall by his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, with Mark Hunter, the man who drafted him in to the Ontario Hockey League, calling his name at the NHL Draft.
“There’s really no words to put it,” said Marner minutes after being picked by the Leafs. “When the Leafs got up there, my heart started beating, I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“When Mark kind of went to the mic, I think I had a little understanding what was going to happen. It was an exciting time.”
The five-foot-11 forward from Markham, Ont., finished second in Ontario Hockey League scoring last season with 126 points (44 goals, 82 assists) in 63 games for the London Knights.
Hunter was owner, vice-president and general manager of the Knights until he was named Toronto’s director of player personnel on Oct. 21. It was in his front office role with London that he selected Marner in the OHL draft in 2013.
“His compete level is next to none,” said Hunter after the first round of the draft finished Friday night. “I’ve watched him, I know what he’s all about and also his character. But then when you see his skill and his skating ability and his passing ability and hockey sense, to me it’s exceptional.”
The close connection with Hunter was not lost on Marner, who said that his former GM didn’t give away his NHL drafting fate at any point in the past season.
“If you would have told me that he would have drafted me in the NHL and the OHL at the same time, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Marner. “But weird things happen like this and it’s a special thing to happen. Obviously when I got up there he gave me a big hug and said thank you.
“He’s been with me since Day 1, drafting me and taking a risk on me, and there’s really no words to put in how much I thank him.”
Later in the draft, Toronto traded the No. 24 spot to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 29th and 61st selections. The Leafs then sent the 29th pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 34th and 68th selections.
Barring any more deals, Toronto will select nine players on the second day of the draft.