The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Friday morning that centerman Alexander Kerfoot will be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair dental fractures in his face.
According to Leafs PR, the injury happened in the game against the LA Kings on November 5th and has been nagging Kerfoot since. It could have been sustained in a separate incident, but Kerfoot withstood a big open-ice hit from Jeff Carter that night, left for concussion protocol, and returned to play the rest of the game. There looked to be partial contact with the mouth/jaw region:
Jeff Carter ▶️▶️▶️ Alex Kerfoot#HfHits
— hockeyfights (@hockeyfights) November 6, 2019
The injury is a tough break amid a fairly promising start to Kerfoot’s Leaf tenure following the trade from Colorado; after making the move to center full time, he’s chipped in five goals — a 21-goal pace — and has earned plaudits from coach Babcock for his competitiveness and responsibility over 200 feet.
The Leafs would’ve been hoping to be able to assemble their preferred third line of Ilya Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Kasperi Kapanen once Marner returns, but it looks like they’ll have to wait even longer than that as the struggle to return to full strength up front continues. In the first quarter of the season, the Leafs have dealt with injuries to Zach Hyman, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and now Kerfoot, as well as Travis Dermott on the backend.
The hole in their center depth will likely be filled by Jason Spezza for now, although we’ll have to see how the situation shakes out in the coming days and weeks as Spezza has not been a relied-upon everyday player for Babcock.
Other center options on the current roster would include Nic Petan (who plays center in the AHL and has played some in the NHL) and Nick Shore, while call-up options on the Marlies include Pierre Engvall (12 points in 13 games) and Tyler Gaudet (5 points in 12 games).
Engvall, in particular, is an interesting option — the Leafs used him on the wing in preseason, but it’s clear he has natural center tendencies in his game that helped him successfully make the transition to the middle of the ice for Sheldon Keefe in the AHL last season. He’s also hovering around the point-per-game mark you typically look for in a call-up candidate.
Once a game or so, we see a really nice flash of speed along with a net drive that makes you really turn your head. It’s a tantalizing combination of size and skating ability… Engvall hangs above the puck a lot; it can leave him a little less committed on the forecheck than what you want from a winger, but it’s a nice trait for a center. He plays paddle down all over the ice as well, which is a nice habit to have for a pivot (knees bent with his stick down at all times, multiple shoulder checks, safe positionally). You can see why the Marlies‘ staff saw some natural center tendencies in his game; we’ll see if he’s smart and dynamic enough to progress and play it at the next level.
– Declan Kerin, MLHS