Mitchell Martin is fully aware that his bread and butter, when it comes to his on-ice talent, has always focused on his uncanny ability to put pucks in the back of the net.
It was evident throughout his minor hockey career with the SMHA AAA Wolves. It was a big part of why the Kitchener Rangers selected the now 6'4" winger in the 4th round of the 2019 OHL Entry Draft.
It could not be denied when, as a 16 year-old, Martin compiled 25 goals and 36 assists to tie for the team lead in scoring with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, finishing dead even with Sudbury Wolves overage prospect Nick DeGrazia (61 points in 2019-2020).
Still, Martin understood his game had to evolve, both for him to be able to contribute with the Rangers, but also if he aspired to proceed beyond junior hockey.
Thankfully for the Sudbury native who turns 20 in early January, both the scoring touch and the growth on the defensive side of the puck were clear as day this post-season as Martin and his Kitchener teammates enjoyed a more than solid two round post-season run, a very positive end to the year when you enter the playoffs as the seventh seed in an eight team draw.
The second leading scorer for his team in the playoffs, racking up 12 points in as many games (7G-5A), Martin was front and centre in a thrilling four games to three first round series win over the favoured London Knights.
In the game seven 4-3 overtime win, Martin would open the scoring and add an assist on the third period game-tying goal. But that wasn't top of mind as he revisited a memorable three week run.
"What gives me equal pride is that my line played against Evangelista's line; keeping them off the scoresheet helped us just as much as the goals," said Martin. That would be Luke Evangelista, the London sniper who ranked fourth in the OHL scoring parade this year, amassing 111 points in 62 games.
For the record, Evangelista recorded six points in the seven games against Kitchener, including just two goals.
Martin is a far different player than the one local "AAA" fans had come to know. He might even be different than the lad who cracked the Rangers' roster on a full-time basis for the first time last fall.
"In the playoffs, what really helped me produce well is that I didn't really care who scored - we all just wanted to win," he said. "I was more focused on the team winning and when I focused on that, the goals and assists just came."
And even when they didn't, as was sometimes the case in a 60+ game regular season, it was no longer the end of the world. "Even in the second half of the season, there was a strtech where I went eight or nine games without getting a point," said Martin.
"That was going right into the playoffs, but I was still creating a lot of chances and getting the shots off. Sometimes the points don't come, but that wasn't a reflection of how I was playing."
A smile might come to the face of a former coach or two as the local teen outlined his mindset as the Rangers prepared to do battle with the Knights.
"Anyone playing in the playoffs realizes that whether you have 100 points or 10 points, the defensive end has to come first," said Martin. "I think I took much better care of that during the playoffs."
"It's cliché, but good defense leads to good offense."
On a team level, it didn't hurt that the Rangers had something to grasp on to as they stepped on the ice in late April against a team that was almost 20 points ahead when regular season play ended.
"Going into the playoffs, we had beaten them four times in a row," noted Martin. "That gave us a good deal of confidence. I can say quite honestly that we had a genuine belief in our room that we could beat them."
Throw in a hot goaltending tandem in the form of Pavel Cajan and Jackson Parsons and you have the makings of an upset.
A subsequent five game series loss to the Western Conference champion Windsor Spitfires has done little to curtail the anticipation that looms in anticipation of the fall.
"We know what it takes now to beat a really good team in a series of seven games," said Martin. "I am really excited going into next year."
Excited, perhaps - but also a more mature, well-rounded player - all of which bodes extremely well for the Kitchener Rangers and Mitchell Martin alike.