After day three of on-ice training camp sessions on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage, Alex Barabanov’s acclimation process, expectations for Ilya Mikheyev this season, and the steps he wants to see Mitch Marner take in 2021.
Sheldon Keefe on day three of training camp, Alex Kerfoot’s status
We had a short practice. The main focus of the day was the scrimmage and getting the guys into a game here. We had a short practice to cover off a few things with our five-on-five play.
In terms of the scrimmage itself, it was good to see the guys in game action and get footage of them playing. I would say it didn’t reach the same level we reached in our practice drills. We had a dropoff in some of our details and physicality, so we want to clean that up going forward. We will talk about that.
There were some positives in the game for sure. We will look to build on those as we go through. It was nice to get the guys more of those game-type of reps. Training camp scrimmages are what they are. Obviously, we know we have a short amount of time before we start playing for real, so we know we have to do better in that regard.
We also practiced our shootouts today. We did one with each of the halves that we had in the scrimmage itself. That was nice to see that and get both the goalies and our prime shooters their reps there.
In regards to Alex Kerfoot, he is going to be a day-to-day situation. It looks like he is doing well and responded well today. We are not sure exactly how long it is going to be here. We will have to take it a day at a time.
Sheldon Keefe Q&A
What is the challenge as a coach when players like Alex Barabanov are trying to learn the language as well as learn the game? Do you take extra time with them? Do you rely on Nik Antropov a lot?
Keefe: Nik has been a terrific addition to our player development staff — not only because of the language and stuff like that. He has been great on the skill side of it, too. He was a big part of the offseason stuff that was happening here at the facility. But certainly, with the language, it helps.
I have had meetings with both Mikheyev and Barabanov with Nik there to help and make sure that he is able to make sure that they understand and to answer any questions they might have. I would say, in both cases with Miky and Bar, their English has come along very nicely to the point that just myself and they are able to communicate pretty well. We do check in with Nik and all of that just to make sure that they are on the same page.
Their teammates have been very good, also. I notice in Barabanov’s case, Simmonds and Spezza are talking to him lots and making sure they re-explain the drills a second or third time in practice, making sure he knows what is going on. Mikheyev, at the same time, has been really good at helping Barabanov as well.
Speaking of Mikheyev, what do you think of Mikheyev becoming a soup salesman and his deal with Campbell’s?
Keefe: I think it is terrific. He has lots of personality. He has used it to gain the attention of our fans. The soup endorsement makes sense. That is part of the beauty of being a Maple Leaf: You get that kind of recognition. It is nice to see that.
What did you learn most about Mikheyev in the Columbus series and in what area of his game do you think he can grow the most?
Keefe: I think it is just through increased experience and consistency. When I say consistency, it is just more that he needs to do it for longer to really show the type of player he can be in the league.
He was playing at a very high level previous to his injury. It is a long road coming back. You are put right into playoff games. If we look back on that series, we think he had some really strong moments in that series and then at other times, not as much. It looked like game conditions were the difference. In scrimmages and stuff in advance, he looked real strong, but playoff conditions are a lot different. Getting off to a good start, which it looks like he is, would be good for him.
We value him greatly. With what we have put together here with a line of Hyman and Kerfoot alongside Miky, I really value that line greatly. It is a really important one for us to give it an opportunity and see what it can do. A lot of the other decisions were made — whether it is with Thornton or Vesey — is because I value that group there with Hyman, Kerfoot, and Mikheyev. Those are the necessary moves to facilitate that. I want to give it a chance and see how it goes.
We both know Hyman and Mikheyev and Kerfoot can all play in the top six and we have seen them succeed there. We have options, but we want to give this a go.
Has anything caught your eye so far with Mitch Marner?
Keefe: Nothing outside of what we have come to expect. Expectations are quite high on him, but he looked really good in the game today. That line was very good. He looks like he has good legs and good energy. He is confident and he certainly looks ready to play for real.
Is there another level to his game you see for him this year?
Keefe: I think just the consistency he can bring on both sides of the game, offensively and defensively, and becoming more of a shooting threat. Adding that element to his game is important no matter who he is playing with. There are times when he can look to attack himself. It was nice to see he scored a great goal today just taking it upon himself to take it to the net and finish. There were a couple of other instances where he did the same thing.
That is something that I have talked to him about. I communicated that I would like to see him challenge the net and challenge the defense. He has so much speed and creativity. We would love to see him attack the net more frequently to generate chances for himself, rebound opportunities for others, or draw more penalties.