After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the team’s process for trimming the roster down, the decision to move Travis Dermott onto the pairing with Zach Bogosian in place of Mikko Lehtonen, the plan with third goaltender Aaron Dell to start the season, and Jimmy Vesey’s role in the lineup.
Toronto Maple Leafs Lines: January 11
Thornton – Matthews – Marner
Vesey – Tavares – Nylander
Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Hyman
Barabanov – Spezza – Simmonds
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian
Sandin – Lehtonen
Loaned to the Toronto Marlies or placed on waivers for the purposes of being loaned to the Marlies: Kenny Agostino, Joey Anderson (waiver exempt), Justin Brazeau, Rourke Chartier, Pierre Engvall (waiver exempt), Tyler Gaudet, Mac Hollowell (waiver exempt), Michael Hutchinson, Teemu Kivihalme (waiver exempt), Timothy Liljegren (waiver exempt), Martin Marincin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen, and Scott Sabourin.
Sheldon Keefe Q&A
What went into the decisions behind the cuts today?
Keefe: First of all, I don’t know if any decision would be described as final. We are just getting started here. Whether there are guys who will be in the lineup on Wednesday or in the taxi squad or assigned directly to the Marlies, it is going to be a fluid situation. We are going to need a lot of people. Everybody is important and has a role to play.
We did have to make some decisions today, of course. Partially, it is just to get our numbers down in managing the roster.
You had Mikko Lehtonen moved around and Travis Dermott with Zach Bogosian today. Is that for today, or what is the thinking there?
Keefe: Reflecting on it and looking at last week for Mikko and the game the other day and how it has all gone for him, we like a lot of things about him. Certainly, on the power play, we feel he is ready to contribute there. We think there are other areas of his game that need a little bit more time. We don’t want to rush him into a situation that he is maybe not adjusted to here quite yet. We are going to take our time with that.
We are playing a little bit off of the history of some of the players in his situation who have come into our organization and have been put in right away. That is coming off of a more traditional exhibition season where they get a lot of games to find their way. In this case, it is a scrimmage and no games against the competition. We are going to take a step back with Mikko and give him more time to watch and get a feel for the league and allow him some more time to work on things in practice and make some adjustments there.
We expect we will get him in at some point. We hope he is more prepared when that is the case.
Where would you like to see Travis Dermott grow this season?
Keefe: He and I have had very direct talks. I would really like to see Travis latch onto his strengths. For me, there are three key areas: 1) Going back for the puck to start our breakouts; 2) Defensive zone puck pressure and creating separation and loose pucks to get us out of our own end that way; 3) His gap control. Those are three areas I would like to see him really excel at. If he focuses at those three, a lot of really positive things come into his game.
Over time, he can stack some other things on top of it, but just focusing on that and being reliable in those areas will be the key for me.
Mitch Marner has been saying he wants to shoot more. How do you think playing with Joe Thornton might play into that?
Keefe: I think playing with Joe is going to help put more pucks on his stick in positions to shoot. That will help, of course. Also, he will be thinking about the fact that Joe is a passer and they will need another shooter on the line. Also, at the same time, he needs to be of the mindset that he doesn’t always have to look for Auston. He is a good player that can score himself and attack the net and put the defense and goalies in bad spots and take advantage of it. We want him to have that mentality.
Whether it is producing more shots or getting to the net more and producing more goals, or just simply drawing more penalties with the way that he skates and the way that he attacks and makes the D nervous, we want him to have that mind set.
Joe Thornton has said he has no stress, and Mitch was saying Joe isn’t even on social media. How do you think Thornton’s personality might rub off on someone like Mitch off of the ice?
Keefe: I think it is already having an effect — not just on Mitch and his linemates but our entire team. He keeps the focus where it needs to be, which is in the gym, in our meetings, on the practice ice, and in games. That is where the focus needs to be, and that is what Joe is all about. He is about keeping it loose and having fun, but when you tie the skates and put your gear on and get on the ice, it is all business. You want to get your work done and have fun doing all of that.
I believe — I think we all believe — that if it is not fun, it is not worth doing. At the same time, Joe has a great ability — even that I have seen in the early going here — to know when it is time to dig in and get the work done, and most importantly, to stay focused, block out the noise, and not get distracted with anything that is outside of our control.
Is there a plan this week to keep Aaron Dell on the roster?
Keefe: He got his extra work in today. At this stage, we don’t want to have three goalies in practice, but we got him some extra work with our extra guys to keep him sharp that way. We have had some discussions at times about whether we would utilize him to back up here in the early going. We are going to continue to discuss that.
He is a good goalie in the league. We like having the depth at the position. We feel it is important in this season. That is how we are doing here things to start.
What have you seen from Jimmy Vesey so far? What does he bring and what would you like to see more of from him throughout the year?
Keefe: What I see from him is a guy who is a really good complementary player. We brought him in to complete a line in our top six — not unlike what we have seen from some of the guys who are no longer with us. We lost Andreas Johnsson. He is a guy who played a similar type of role and can move up and down the lineup, play on the power play, kill some penalties if we need him to, play with good players.
We like his ability to take on a role like that. He has scored in the league at even strength. He is a big guy who gets around the ice well. He has a really good stick. It is unbelievable how many times he gets his stick on a puck and creates a turnover. It is a real strength of his.
We just want to get him confident and feeling good. We also feel he can contribute for us on the penalty kill utilizing that good stick and some of his instincts and speed and length. He is just a good player for us that makes us a deeper team. He is an important guy.
Where has Nick Robertson improved from last summer in the qualifiers? Where do you think his game still needs to grow specifically?
Keefe: I don’t know if I could point to one thing he has improved on necessarily. I think he has gotten stronger and he looks that way. His confidence around the facility and around NHL players and such has improved. He is way more comfortable around here. That in and of itself helps a young player.
Like any young player, the details in his game, as he learns the structure and learns to play away from the puck, those are all things that he could do better. Dealing with the physicality and strength of the opposition is an important one. With the way that he skates and the skill set that he has, he has a lot to offer in that sense. We are fortunate to be able to keep him around here right now and continue to have him learn and adjust.