The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed forward Pierre Engvall to a two-year, $1.25 million AAV contract extension, the club announced on Wednesday.
The powerful, rangy Swede, a former seventh-round pick of the Leafs in 2014, has not looked back since receiving his first NHL call-up in mid-November, forcing his way into the mix as a regular in the Leafs’ bottom-six (~12 minutes/game) and on the penalty kill (1:11/game).
Engvall has given the Leafs’ secondary scoring a nice lift with seven goals and 14 points in 35 games, albeit his production has slowed down of late with just one assist in his last nine. His initial shooting success was never going to be sustainable (seven goals on 34 shots, 20.6%), but even when he hasn’t been producing on the scoresheet, he has found a way to provide value on most nights between his play-driving ability at five-on-five, responsible defensive game, and his penalty-killing contributions.
The 23-year-old has also proven to be a versatile asset capable of taking NHL shifts at center. That said, his game may be best deployed on the wing, where he can use his speed, big frame, and reach to be first in on the forecheck, win battles, create loose-puck situations, and recover possession.
Engvall’s play without the puck was shaped in a checking role under Sheldon Keefe in the AHL and has translated in his rookie season in the NHL; he uses his excellent skating ability and long reach to good effect to strip pucks loose when tracking back defensively. He’s also effective leveraging his body to dispossess opponents and usually has his stick engaged, on the ice, and in the right spots — something that has made him effective on the penalty kill, in addition to his ability to close down space and be strong on the puck when winning battles and clearing pucks.
Offensively, his fluid, long, and powerful skating skate stride allows him to gain separation in foot races at the NHL level. In the zone, he is able to keep plays alive and extend cycles, and he shows a natural willingness to take on center duties as a winger and provide defensive support with his linemates in deep. He has also shown an ability to finish plays with his heavy shot. His vision and play-making ability aren’t elite, but he can hold his own in this regard, with reasonable overall puck skills.
Pierre Engvall, SKATR Profile (2019-20)
5v5 percentile ranks by hourly rates for Def/Fwds (100+mins)
No doubt, Engvall’s emergence this season made GM Kyle Dubas more comfortable moving a depth asset like Trevor Moore to fill a need at the backup goaltending position last week. Engvall already has more career points than Moore in 16 fewer games, he’s a few months younger, he can also play a penalty-killing role, and he brings the bonus element of being a large human being (6’5, 220), in addition to his positional versatility. That ability to play down the middle has come in particularly handy as Sheldon Keefe has moved Alex Kerfoot up into a left-wing role in the top six with Ilya Mikheyev sidelined long-term.
At $1.25 million AAV, Engvall should provide solid value over the duration of the deal before he becomes an RFA with arbitration rights after the 2021-22 season. Opportunities being equal, he might not be far behind an Andreas Johnsson in terms of the production he could offer and he’ll be paid about a third of Johnsson’s money. Engvall’s most common linemates have been Frederik Gauthier — with whom he’s been outscored 3-2 at 5v5 but has posted a 56% CF, a 59% SF, and a 59% xGF this season while starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone (25% OZ starts) — and Jason Spezza, with whom he has outscored the opposition 5-3 at 5v5, although his results haven’t been as positive with Spezza from a possession standpoint (46% CF, 44.6% SCF).
Engvall will likely be a positional rover for Keefe the rest of the season, although that depends on whether the Leafs go in the direction of adding to their center depth by the Feb. 24 trade deadline.