Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the call up of Timothy Liljegren from the Toronto Marlies, Tyson Barrie and Trevor Moore’s status for Tuesday’s game vs. Buffalo, and Justin Holl’s emergence.
Timothy Liljegren has earned the right to come up. Whether he gets in remains to be seen. How important is this for his confidence — to reward him with the consistent year he has had down there?
Keefe: Well, we think that was a big part of it. Obviously, we have some defensemen that are a little bit banged up and we needed some insurance here. It also served as a great opportunity to have guys like him come up and get some reps in practice and find a level of comfort around here that could serve him well in the future. He’s certainly earned it.
When you look at him now, do you know that’s a possibility that you might not have known six or eight months ago?
Keefe: Yeah, that’s what I mean — just the progress he’s made. Of course, I’ve lived that with him and have been there. I know at times people have been hard on him and his development. It hasn’t been as quick as some might like, but we’ve seen steady progress there. He’s really worked at it and kept a good attitude. It was nice to see him here in the building today.
Is there any area in particular this season that you’ve heard where he’s made progress?
Keefe: For most of the year, I was right there with him. I think he just continued on with where he left off last season in terms of being a very reliable guy away from the puck and playing against other teams’ best players and taking a step offensively this year with a little more power-play time for him. He continues to be a mainstay on the penalty kill. He’s really refining the defensive side of the game for himself, which is an important piece. He’s continuing to look to find his level of comfort offensively, but he’s looking to be a guy who is going to serve well in all areas of the game.
What does it say about the organization’s prospects that he’s not yet 21 and Rasmus Sandin is not even 20 until next March?
Keefe: It is something that gets forgotten about. In Liljegren’s case, it is his third year in the organization playing here every day in Toronto and in the American league. You forget about just how young he is. I’ve said it a number of times: Just because he’s played with us doesn’t mean he is going to get that much further ahead in his development. If he was a guy coming fresh out of junior, you’d be pretty darn excited about him. There are lots of reasons for us to believe in him. He’s earned that through his play and more importantly, just how he’s worked every single day in season and in the off season.
Having said all of that, do you think Tyson Barrie is good to go for tomorrow night?
Keefe: It is looking that way based on the fact that he was able to get through practice. We will have to see if he and some of our other injured guys just how they respond in the morning. We’ll make those decisions tomorrow.
What kind of growth have you seen with Justin Holl from your time with the Marlies to this season?
Keefe: Significant growth. Just confidence at this level would be the big thing. He went through a similar process at the AHL level where the organization believed in him enough to bring him in, but he had to start at the bottom first, starting in what was essentially an ECHL training camp with us — and then earning his way onto the roster and being a #7 or #8 defensemen and having to sit out a lot and earn his way into the lineup. And then moving from the bottom pair and up to the second pair and the top pair, finally, when we won the Calder Cup.
He has been through this before. I think it is just confidence — both the organization’s confidence in him and his confidence in himself to just go out and play and do what he does.
Do you think that he has shown enough to suggest he has staying power in the league?
Keefe: He is certainly on his way to that. With every opportunity that we have given him, he has taken advantage of it and has done a good job. It is a small sample here yet, but we believe in him and he is believing in himself and going out and taking advantage of every opportunity he gets out there.
Trevor Moore was just talking about how tough it is to stay patient with an injury like this. What have you seen from him as he’s been working to get his way back onto the ice?
Keefe: Just seeing that he has worked. I’ve come to expect that from Trevor. He just has a great attitude about him and comes to the rink every day. I know he has been anxious to get playing and there has been a lot of changes around here. It is a tough time to be injured and not around and not involved, but of course, I believe I have a good relationship with him from his time spent with the Marlies. We’ve talked to him a lot. Once we do get him up and running, we will be looking forward to having him.
How important might this experience for Rasmus Sandin going to the WJC be to his development?
Keefe: Yeah, that event is a great event. For anyone that has had the opportunity to take part in the event, they’ve come back, we feel, a better player — certainly one with more experience; both life experience and playing experience on such a stage like that. They’re competitive games with lots of attention and lots of pressure. All of that is very good and very healthy for all young players, I believe.