Mason Marchment profits from Maple Leafs development staff ahead of debut

It's a dream come true for Mason Marchment, who's set to make his NHL debut with the Maple Leafs, and says he wouldn't be up here today if it wasn't for Sheldon Keefe and skating consultant, Barb Underhill.

WINNIPEG — It takes a village to raise an NHLer.

In Mason Marchment’s case, it took just about every available development resource the Toronto Maple Leafs have at their disposal.

Standing inside Bell MTS Place hours before his debut against the Winnipeg Jets, the 24-year-old winger said this moment wouldn’t have been possible without all the work skating consultant Barb Underhill put in with him these last few years.

“Well she taught me how to skate,” said Marchment.

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Even though he grew up in a traditional hockey setting as the son of longtime NHLer Bryan Marchment, his journey is one of ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking.

Mason Marchment was a late bloomer who didn’t reach the Ontario Hockey League until age 19 and passed through the NHL draft without being selected a couple of times. He then signed an AHL-only deal with the Marlies in April 2016 and spent a chunk of his first professional season working exclusively with the organization’s development staff — giving him a chance to build strength and improve his skating stride without having to worry about games.

Now, that setup doesn’t work without complete buy-in and commitment from the player. And it helped set the stage for the steps he’s taken since.

“That was sort of the foundation that was built for him and then he just took off from there,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “I just think that when you’re in player development that playing games is not always the best thing. Everybody wants to play games and that’s what they do and they get comfortable with that, but it doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for each player.

“The pro schedule … at times is pretty demanding so you have to kind of take a step back with some players with the workload when it comes to games and put more attention on the actual development of the player and the priorities that they really need.

“So that’s what we did with Mason.”

It was Keefe who told Marchment that there was a good chance he’d be making his NHL debut during an on-ice chat before Wednesday’s practice. That allowed time for his parents, sister and girlfriend to make the trip to Winnipeg to watch him play his first game with the Leafs.

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There was a full-circle feel to the timing of it all — Bryan Marchment broke into the NHL as a member of the Jets, and had a late career stop in Toronto — which is becoming a hallmark of how these Leafs conduct their affairs.

Keefe has said that he likes to create “memorable moments” for his players and consider how many there’ve been in the last few weeks alone: Minnesota native Justin Holl signed a $6-million, three-year extension just hours before starting against his hometown Wild on Tuesday; prospect Teemu Kivihalme, another Minnesotan, was called up for the first time Monday and skated in warmups at Xcel Energy Center; veteran Jason Spezza was inserted in the starting lineup on Dec. 23 for the only home afternoon game all season because his four daughters were in attendance and scored on the opening shift; and Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Jeremy Bracco and Kenny Agostino have all been recalled at various points in recent weeks to get a practice and day of NHL pay in with the Leafs.

It’s not clear how much run Marchment might see with the big club. He brings a physical element the team generally lacks and will take Dmytro Timashov’s spot on the fourth line, but there are no shortage of forward options for the organization — especially once Trevor Moore (concussion) and Andreas Johnsson (leg) return to health.

Still, there’s something to be said for Marchment getting here at all, both because of his unique path and the fact he missed all of training camp following shoulder surgery. Keefe is particularly impressed by the positive attitude he maintained during recovery.

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“I spoke with him a bit yesterday just about recognizing why he’s here and having fun and enjoying it, but not feeling like he has to come in and change anything,” said Keefe. “Just go out and take advantage of each shift that he gets. Mostly just enjoy it and recognize all the work that he’s done to get here.”

That work was put in by Marchment, but also a robust development staff. The player believes they had a “huge” role in his climb.

“Sheldon really helped me a lot growing up through this system and the development staff also: Barb, [former development coach] Mike Ellis, [senior director of player development Scott Pellerin],” said Marchment. “I mean those guys obviously helped me so much throughout the last five years, especially Barb. I don’t think I would be here today without Barb, so really kudos to her.

“I’m excited.”

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