After the second day of on-ice training camp sessions, Sheldon Keefe discussed the role David Kampf can play for the team this season, Mitch Marner’s need to evolve his shooting abilities, Michael Bunting’s game and skill set, and what Travis Dermott needs to do to take the next step in his development.
David Kampf was saying he wants to shut down the best players in the NHL. That must be music to your ears in terms of what you are looking for him to do.
Keefe: It speaks to his mindset right away. He knows exactly who he is and what he does. He has done a very good job of it around the league. I have had a number of NHL coaches reach out to me and talk about how much respect they have for Kampf’s game and what he does. That includes Jeremy Colliton in Chicago.
He is a guy who brings a lot to the table. He knows exactly who he is and what he wants to do. To put together successful teams, you need guys who are very comfortable in playing those types of roles.
Are you looking to build a straight-up shutdown line?
Keefe: We are always trying to find lines we can be comfortable playing in all situations. That is what really excited me about adding Kampf to the group. He has shown he can do that. He can take faceoffs. He can play against good people. We think he has other elements of his game offensively he can build on and grow in. The fact that he is confident and comfortable in that role brings us a lot of options to what we can do lower in the lineup.
It seems like Mitch Marner talks every year about working on his shot and wanting to improve on it. How much discussion do you have with him about that particular evolution in his game?
Keefe: We have chatted about it for sure. As last season ended, it was one of the first things that we spoke of, and we really made some connections with him. He tries to get on the ice and get extra work with skills coaches to work on those areas of his game. It is not just about his shot mentality necessarily. It is also just about his actual physical shot — working on it, the details of it, and getting those reps him. Credit to him. He put in a lot of work to do that.
Are you seeing a difference in that regard yet, or is it too early?
Keefe: I would say it is too early at this point, but it is not too early to tell about the work. I have spoken to a lot of those who have worked with him and I have seen some of it myself being here in the facility. I am really happy with his whole approach and how he has handled his whole offseason here today, coming into this camp ready to go.
If he takes a step with his shot, how much of a difference might that make on the power play?
Keefe: Significant, is our hope. If you go through the goals that Mitch has scored over his time in the NHL on the power play, he has scored at times by shooting the puck and beating goalies clean. Last season, it just didn’t go his way. It didn’t fall in for him. We expect things to bounce back a little in that sense. Also, just with his increased work and recognition and a little bit of the urgency from all of the players on our power play to be great, we are expecting things to flip that way.
Wayne Simmonds was saying John Tavares had a bunch of the guys up to his cottage to train and get together. How important is that for players to seek that out on their own? What kind of impact might it make?
Keefe: It remains to be seen what type of impact that type of thing made, but the feedback was terrific. It was a significant group we had here living and working in Toronto that made the trip out there. They spent time together, and it wasn’t just time relaxing on the water. They got some work in while they were there, too, skating and training. They did all of that sort of stuff together, too.
It was a significant trip. I don’t know a whole lot that went on there. I don’t want to know because it’s their time to do that. But John’s initiative to do it speaks to his leadership and his growth. He has established himself here over time as the captain and leader of this team. I think it was a very positive step for us that sets us up for success going into camp and into the season.
The Amazon series that was filmed last season will take people behind the scenes. What do you think will be good for fans to learn about what goes on behind the scenes?
Keefe: I haven’t seen the final episodes, but just the personalities of the team and the adversity they go through, some of the injuries and the battles, the behind-the-scenes and how it impacts the players and the team, the journey, the ups and downs, the emotions that are attached to it — there are a lot of things that you go through over the course of a season. If anything, that is what the show is able to capture with the thousands of hours of film they got from the different cameras they had following us around.
Is there any idea when Auston Matthews might join the group?
Keefe: It all depends on how he progresses. Today, he took another step. Each day, I think he is going to feel better and get more done. It will just be a matter of how that progresses. There is no exact date or anything that we are targeting at this point. We are very confident that it is going to be before the opening of the regular season. Of course, if we can get him into some regular-season games, that is even better.
What do you like about Michael Bunting’s game?
Keefe: He is a guy that is really hard on the puck but also very good and tenacious around the net. He loves to score goals. From the time I coached him in the Soo and he joined as a late bloomer coming into junior hockey in the OHL, he loved to score and was relentless around the goal.
He showed that last season in Arizona as well. A lot of the goals he scored — there were not a whole lot of flukey goals there. He was challenging the crease and getting after the net. That is what he does. He has developed some great confidence.
He really wants to be here and be a Maple Leaf. The work he has put in this offseason has reflected that. The skillset he has in terms of being on the puck, being around the net, and being able to finish is a good fit to play with some of our better players. We are going to give him that opportunity.
Much like what we said about Nick Ritchie, we have other guys as well. We will move the lines around throughout camp here and preseason, give different people different looks and opportunities, but I certainly think with Bunt’s skill set, there is some good potential there.
What are you looking for from Travis Dermott for him to take the next step in his career?
Keefe: The same sort of things that it has been for Derms. It is that level of consistency that you are looking for in young players — consistency and reliability. That is really it. It is just taking the step that way. The whole maturation of his game and how that manifests itself on the ice — that is what we are looking for.
We are giving him a good opportunity here. The fact that we have rejigged the pairings in preseason gives guys like Dermott, Liljegren, and Sandin different looks and opportunities. It should give them confidence going in knowing that they have a veteran to lean on and talk to — all of those kinds of things. We are just hoping that all of our young players will get a little bit of a jolt from that.
Will we see some PK time from Dermott as well?
Keefe: That is the expectation. We have a hole there to fill. Between Dermott and Rielly both, they will see some increased time there.