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Cooper: Marner ‘as smart a player’ NHL’s ‘ever seen’

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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning skated at Scotiabank Arena before tonight’s game.

Jon Cooper coached Mitch Marner at the 2017 World Championships and came away incredibly impressed by Maple Leafs winger. And the respect the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach has for Marner only seems to be growing.

"The one thing about Marner is he is as smart a player as this league has not only seen this year, has ever seen," Cooper proclaimed. "And somebody that can elude defenders and do the things he can does with the puck on the offensive side of it, it translates to the defensive side as well."

Brad Marchand, who last week tweeted about his admiration for Marner, continued to troll Leafs Nation on Monday afternoon. The Boston Bruins winger responded to a tweet with the Cooper quote by writing "Told ya." But Cooper was genuine in his praise, even referencing a play Marner made a week ago in Calgary when he intercepted a pass from Flames centre Mikael Backlund before blowing past defenceman Noah Hanifin to get a breakaway chance leading to a Zach Hyman rebound goal.

"He knew that play was happening before the defenceman did, that’s how he got the breakaway so when you have a brain like that you can play both sides of the puck," Cooper gushed.

Marner’s feel for the game also stands out to linemate John Tavares.

"What's really impressed me most about him, getting to know him and playing with him this year, is just when we talk on the bench and the things he sees and recognizes from opponents when they have the puck and the things they’re trying to do," said Tavares. "He picks up on things so well. It’s really, really impressive, especially for a guy his age. He just reads the game so well not just with the puck, but without it that he’s able to anticipate plays."

"He’s [an] unbelievable player," said Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov, "fun to watch and he makes those plays people don’t see. I guess he’s so much fun to play with and I guess guys like to play with him on same line and PP because he makes plays. He sets up passes and makes other players better and that’s what I like about him."

Marner has assisted on 22 of Tavares’ 38 goals this season. But the defensive side of the game has been just as important for the dynamic duo and that’s why Leafs head coach Mike Babcock will often match the Tavares........