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The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Mitch Marner, centre, with the fourth overall pick in the NHL entry draft. Marner fits with the revamped philosophy of the Leafs and coach Mike Babcock, right, which insists that size doesn’t matter without skill, and that skill trumps all – including grit and nationality and so many other intangibles that can cloud the process.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

At first glance, another small, skilled forward feels like the last thing the Toronto Maple Leafs needed.

They have Phil Kessel, at least for now. They have Nazem Kadri. They have William Nylander and Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic and others on the way.

Now, after picking him fourth overall on Friday, they also have Mitch Marner, a local kid who grew up always undersized and always wanting to be a Leaf.

"I wanted to play for this team my whole life," he said on Sportsnet's draft broadcast shortly after he was picked.

Other organizations would view that collection of similar players as a problem. But the Leafs have insisted all along that they would take the best player available, and by drafting a player that director of player personnel Mark Hunter is intimately familiar with, that's really what they tried to do.

Hunter picked Marner in junior, two years ago, with the London Knights.

Now he has picked him in the NHL, staking his considerable reputation as one of hockey's best scouts on one of the smallest players available. (Marner is listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, although he only turned 18 last month and could have another inch or two to go.)

The risk for Hunter is considerable. If potential star defencemen Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov or any of the other wunderkinds taken right after Marner gets off to a quicker start to their career, critics will immediately charge that the Leafs simply went with the pick they knew.

Toronto, after all, is loaded with former Knights staffers, including key scout Lindsay Hofford, who was also the hockey director at the Hill Academy school in Vaughan, Ont., that Marner attended and played at for years.

The Leafs didn't just know this player as a junior star, who finished second in OHL scoring as a 17-year old this season, posting incredible draft-year numbers that were almost comparable to those of uber-stars that went first overall like Joe Thornton, Patrick Kane and John Tavares. (Almost we said. Hold your emails.)

Some at Toronto's draft table knew him as a little boy from nearby Thornhill.

So the nepotism accusations will come, especially if Marner's tiny frame means it takes him time to develop and make an impact in the NHL. He almost certainly won't play in the NHL next season, and it's uncertain how much time he may need in the AHL after that.

Perhaps more than others that were picked around him.

Those who know Hunter, however, insist he wouldn't risk a missed pick because of familiarity. The Leafs staff agonized over video and reports on Hanifin and Dylan Strome – who went third to Arizona – for months before confirming Marner was their third highest ranked prospect, in large part because they believe he has the highest ceiling.

Others in the scouting fraternity agree that he has superstar potential.

"Marner has more offensive upside at the end of the day," said McKeen's Hockey's head scout Grant McCagg, comparing Marner and Strome. "And I get the feeling he will be more productive come playoff time as he is so competitive."

More adjectives are used, too: Intuitive, elusive and aware.

"We know he's going to get better because he's hungry to get better," Hunter explained.

Marner also fits with the Leafs revamped scouting philosophy, which insists that size doesn't matter without skill, and that skill trumps all – including grit and nationality and so many other intangibles that can cloud the process for so many NHL teams.

It's a mantra they could have used at the draft table in the past. Perhaps they would have taken Colin Wilson instead of Luke Schenn, or Tyler Toffoli instead of Brad Ross, or Rickard Rakell instead of Tyler Biggs, or Andre Burakovsky instead of Frederik Gauthier? Perhaps they would have another two or three or more hits instead of misses in the last seven drafts and not had to change regimes yet again, firing dozens of scouts and staff and starting again?

The Marner pick may look like it's coming from a group that's too enthralled with sameness, with sticking with what they know. But for the Leafs franchise, this actually signifies moving on and finally joining the pack of teams at the top of the league – like Chicago and Tampa – that have long since turned a sizeable portion of their rosters over to Marner-like stars.

Kane. Tyler Johnson. Nikita Kucherov. Etc.

Toronto started down this road, in a weird way, with Morgan Rielly, who remains as a foundation piece on the blueline, one of the few from the Brian Burke era. They also added similar skill in Nylander, even as the front office was about to be broken apart by president Brendan Shanahan, a year ago. But the Marner pick signifies the beginning under this regime, as the Leafs have a pile of picks on Day 2 of the draft on Saturday to further flesh out their prospect pool, an integral part of their rebuild.

That pile got bigger and bigger as Friday wore on, too, as the Leafs took a page out of the New England Patriots book and turned their other first-round pick (24th overall) into two second-rounders and a pick early in the third in two separate deals with the Flyers and Blue Jackets.

That's quite a haul for what was a pending unrestricted free agent (Cody Franson) that they shipped to Nashville for a brief, unsuccessful stint late in the year.

In all, it gives the Leafs nine picks in Rounds 2 to 7, far more than they came into this season with and the result of some outside-the-box thinking during a lost season, something Toronto has needed for years.

"It's the first time that has happened here in a while," Hunter said of the plethora of picks. "Now it's a focus on making use of them."

It's fitting though that this all starts with a big bet by Hunter, who holds the key to so much of the Leafs fortunes as they try and find a path up the standings and out of this eternal rut.

They need him to be right, not just on Marner, but all of the picks still coming.

Only time will tell if he is.