After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Nick Robertson’s progress toward making the Game 1 lineup, Pierre Engvall’s limited minutes in the exhibition win versus Montreal, Alex Kerfoot’s role on the penalty kill, and experimenting with the Morgan Rielly – Travis Dermott pairing.
Today’s @MapleLeafs practice lines and defensive pairings:
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) July 29, 2020
Nick Robertson was saying he felt like last night proved to himself that he can keep up at this level. Where do you see his confidence level in terms of feeling like he is fitting in with the level he is at right now?
Keefe: I think he is in a good place there. He is not a guy that is short on confidence. He has shown that all the way throughout the camp that he believes in himself. He goes out every shift and tries to make the most of it in every rep in practice. That is what you like about him.
As I said yesterday, I thought there were some really good, positive signs in his play. That was another level of competition than what we were going through in camp now that you are playing against a real opponent. He showed well in that sense. That was a positive thing to see from him.
You continue to give Robertson really good opportunities. Again, he was practicing with the same line he had been with for a little while. Should we read into anything when it comes to that, or have you made any decisions in terms of what you are going to do with Nick on Sunday?
Keefe: What you can read into it is that we continue to believe in him. He hasn’t had any lapses here that have made us second guess giving him that opportunity. Despite the fact that we don’t have any more games here, we haven’t made any final decisions. I still have some days here to consider some different things.
As I’ve maintained throughout this, it is more than just Nick here. We have other decisions to make about other players and how everything fits. Some of those decisions impact Nick. It is more than just his individual situation but rather what is right for our team and what is going to give us the best opportunity to win Game 1.
We’ve got some time to continue working with that. We have two practice days and we’ll have an off day as well. We’ll finalize our plan from there. As I was saying, if you can read anything into it it’s that we continue to believe in him and he continues to give us reason to give him reps in that spot.
With Pierre Engvall last night, was that a performance issue with him not playing in the second half of the game?
Keefe: Well, we dressed 13 forwards. It’s really difficult to play 13. We have a lot of guys there that need to get minutes. I had to make a decision. I gave Pierre his opportunity early to kind of get going. Gauthier didn’t have much opportunity early on. I just kind of flipped it in the second half. That’s just kind of how that worked out.
With having both 13 forwards and seven defensemen, there were going to be some guys that were not going to play very much. That was important that it had to be that way. We needed to make sure that having 13 and 7 didn’t disrupt the players that need to have a regular rhythm and can get a lot out of the exhibition game. There were guys we wanted to get in the 15-20 minute range in order to do that. The extra guys are not going to get very much.
What made you want to give Alexander Kerfoot more of a look and more of a role on the PK?
Keefe: It was really just through analysis through the pause of looking at his play on the penalty kill. Dave Hakstol really took the lead in that. We had used him sparingly. Just looking a lot closer at it, we just felt there were a lot of positives there that gave us reason to want to give him a chance early in camp to expand his role there.
If we can get him more minutes there, it helps us a great deal having a centerman that can take some faceoffs and all of that kind of thing. That is positive. Really, just how he skates and pressures the puck and his reads of the play have been really good. We have seen lots of reasons to continue to go with that.
If he can pair with Kappy like he did yesterday, with the fact that they can play together at 5v5 and then go to the kill, it really helps the rhythm of our bench.
When you went over tape of last night’s game, was there something that stood out to you as either positive or as an area for improvement that you didn’t catch in real time?
Keefe: The things I thought were positive were just in terms of how we worked to come back to our end. I thought a lot of times there might have been some issues with some of our reads and some of our details defensively, but we had enough people in spots to be able to break up plays and we protected our net fairly well as a result. That is a priority for us.
A lot of the other things that I thought weren’t very good, weren’t very good. In that exhibition game, we knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, but in the areas we were focusing on the most, we saw some positive signs in.
What has been your assessment of Morgan Rielly and Travis Dermott when they have been out there together? What is your comfort level with them as a pairing?
Keefe: I think they have done fine. I don’t know that the sample is larger enough yet to make any real final determinations. What we have seen throughout this — and it started in Phase 2 with the number of reps that we were able to get for Dermott over the course of three or four weeks while playing and practicing on the right side — that he is comfortable to play there at any time if we feel we need to make a change or want to make a change. It gives us increased flexibility and gives him further opportunity to move up the lineup.