Sheldon Keefe met with the media on Tuesday after the second day of on-ice training camp sessions, discussing his decision to start Jimmy Vesey on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander, Alex Kerfoot’s injury, and how Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds will be integrated into the power play.
Sheldon Keefe on the Alex Kerfoot injury (day to day)
Keefe: Alex Kerfoot went down and got a little bit banged up. He is going to get evaluated and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. I would say he is doubtful to skate tomorrow, but it is looking like he will be day-to-day from here. When we find out, we’ll give you an update.
We are going to wait and see what the situation is [when it comes to lines]. We are going to see how it goes. We’ll make the adjustments. We’ll bring somebody up into practice tomorrow from the second group to fill in that spot. We’ll talk about that here and make some decisions there.
Sheldon Keefe Q&A
What do you see with the potential of Jimmy Vesey on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander?
Keefe: I think he brings a lot to the line. He is a big guy who takes up a lot of space with his length and reach. Also, he has good speed. When he gets his feet moving, he is a lot to handle through the neutral zone and down in the offensive zone. He has a really good stick. He gets his stick on a lot of pucks and creates a lot of loose-puck situations where he gets the puck back for his linemates. We think that is going to help John and Will in that way.
He has got a good skill set. When he gets the puck around the net, he can score. Lots of really good things there. We expect him to be a guy who is really skating and working on that line. It is a good opportunity for him. He has had two good days here so far. We are looking to see him continue to build on that.
How much is the tough bag skating at camp geared toward the short season and compressed schedule?
Keefe: I wouldn’t say that is the case. The reality is that every training camp I’ve run as a coach, this is how I have approached it — if we take the one before we went into the bubble out, as I don’t really consider it the same situation. With the Marlies, we never had a traditional training camp. Certainly with Sault Ste. Marie and even back in my days in Pembroke, that is how I started off all of my camps. I tried to make training camp one of the more — if not the — most difficult phase of the season. That is the intention behind it.
Having it be a shortened season, there is a little more urgency to be sharp. At the same time, we want to make sure we are doing the best to manage players and not push players to the point where we are putting them at the risk of injury.
I just felt that the principles of the training camps I’ve held in the past I need to stick to regardless of whether it is a short or long camp. We are going to get our work done.
When you took over in November last year, it was a bit of a lighter tone. How do you look at the contrast?
Keefe: I look at it as two different situations. I was coming in mid-season with a team that was really and needed to find its way. Morale and energy were low. I don’t think coming in and taking this type of approach would have served team morale very well. I didn’t even consider it as an option at the time. We wanted to get the team feeling good and get them confident to use their skills and all of those types of things. I think we are in a good place there as a team.
I always knew we needed to make changes with our standards and our habits and all of the things that we do. That is extremely difficult to do mid-stream when you have one odd practice and then you’re playing the next day. I found that to be a challenge and something we were always talking about behind the scenes. We needed to sort of readjust things here and reset in training camp in order to do that.
We went from sort of trying to patch holes to really working towards setting a proper foundation and building from there.
Have you taken any time in the first two days to work on special teams? What will your power-play units look like to start?
Keefe: We haven’t worked on special teams here yet. We made the decision we wanted to focus on our five-on-five play in the first few days. With what we wanted to get done in terms of the demands and physicality and pace we wanted to establish in practice, that was the priority.
Special teams generally slow down the practice. You are using only some guys. The pace is not nearly the same. We are going to focus again tomorrow on our five-on-five play. We will move toward special teams from there and using special teams pretty well every single day the rest of the way through as we prepare for the first game. Right now, we are keeping it with five-on-five because we have lots of work to do there.
Does having Joe Thornton around make you reconsider what the first power-play unit is going to look like?
Keefe: Yes, it does. Not just him, but Wayne Simmonds. We have given thought to that. We are not there yet, but the answer is we are going to establish two units from the start and look to build some chemistry there. I think we feel confident having the four forwards from last year play together. We feel confident in that group and feel we can go to it at any time. We also feel like there will be times that we will go to it, but we wanted to really work at establishing two units here with the depth that we have.
How has Travis Dermott looked at camp? What is the message to him to try to move up the lineup?
Keefe: I think he looks really good. He has had a great offseason here. He has been in the facility every day all the way through. He has put in some great work to be really prepared for this season.
The situation that he is in here now has nothing to do with his offseason or anything like that. As we talked about yesterday, we have added to our depth on defense. It has affected his situation and his role here to start.
My message to him is to be ready and be at his best every day. We are looking for him to really latch onto a clear identity of who he is and what he is going to be able to provide. We have seen some inconsistencies. At times, he has been excellent, even playing in a top-four situation. Sometimes, there is inconsistency there.
I think he is as good of a player as we have in the defensive zone with closing and puck pressure and his gap control and going back for pucks. Those are really good, but we need to make sure that is consistent and that his play with the puck and play in other areas of the ice are consistent.
What is your level of faith in Mikko Lehtonen as a top-six option? Not everybody from Europe can adapt quickly.
Keefe: We are going to continue to evaluate. We have seen a great deal of him in the KHL. He has had a lot of success there. He has looked good. Even before camp, when he got here early to get work in, he has looked good. He has looked good so far in the sessions we have had. We want to give him every opportunity to get confident. As we spoke of yesterday, we’re trying to ease that transition so he can get out here and feel like himself as quickly as possible.
You look at him, Bogosian, Holl, Dermott, Sandin, Marincin, Liljegren, Rosen — we have great depth here. We haven’t made any final determinations. Each day, these guys have to bring their absolute best. We love the internal comeptition. We think it makes us better. We are just going to continue to watch. It is a 56-game season, and despite it being a shortened season, we know we are going to need more than just the top six.
What kind of player are you expecting Zach Bogosian to be for you this season?
Keefe: I am expecting him to be a guy who is physical on the puck when there is an opportunity to do so in the defensive zone — to get the puck back for our team and create loose-puck situations for us, be strong in and around our net, have good gaps. When it is time to move the puck, move it efficiently. That is what I am looking for on the ice.
That level of physicality and the presence that he brings — I can tell you he has been a big part of the vibe around our locker room. He has great energy about him and great confidence in who he is. We have seen lots of great displays of positive leadership thus far. That has been really well received by staff and teammates alike. We are really encouraged with his presence here so far.