Let’s see what we can take out of this one.
I doubt you’ll be telling your future grandkids about this game, but hey, it’s the preseason. If anyone expected a Monday night exhibition against the Ottawa Senators to be a thrilling experience, boy have I got a bridge to sell you.
Instead of focusing on the final score or quality of NHL hockey, the purpose of these games for me is to evaluate certain players. We all know the ones we’re watching closely — it’s the same ones Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe & Co. are keeping a close eye on right now.
In that regard, there were certainly some meaningful takeaways from tonight. Pierre Engvall reminded us how well he can shoot; Ondrej Kase and Joshua Ho-Sang are looking like great bets right now; even guys like David Kampf are making these games (almost) worth watching.
For fun, we’ll try switching back to the typical Leafs Report Cards format tonight. NHL teams like trying different things in the preseason, so why not shake things up a bit here, too? We’ll see what works and what doesn’t. After all, the whole point of preseason is to tune up for the six-month grind.
Let’s get to it!
Pierre Engvall (LW, #47) — It’s fitting that Pierre Engvall is tonight’s player of the game since he tends to be the forward most Leafs fans are talking about these days. His array of tools are pretty obvious when you watch him regularly; he’s an explosive skater, stands 6’5 with a long wingspan (and neck), not to mention his heavy wrist shot.
You’ll see flashes of it like tonight and ask yourself, “Why doesn’t he do that all the time?”
This wasn’t the only time he beat Matt Murray clean from the left dot. He zipped one past him later in the game only to hit the iron. What’s more impressive is that he did it without a seam pass, walking in from the top of the circle and picking the corner. Sometimes you don’t get the bounces, but I’ve always liked counting posts and crossbars as quasi-goals — you beat the goaltender after all.
What frustrates most of us about Engvall is that he has all these physical gifts — size, speed, power on his shot — but then he’ll make bad decisions that you’d think would be easily correctable.
For example, he’s the most Pierre Engvall rush of the evening.
You could have the greatest shot in the world, but if your shot selection is poor, you’re going to have trouble scoring. Engvall has a tendency to launch pucks from long distance, sometimes even from the boards.
When you can gain the zone as well as Engvall can, it should lead to much more dangerous chances than that. There are also examples of him taking bad routes on forechecks and failing to put a body on the opposition that are going to frustrate Sheldon Keefe to no end.
He played great tonight, but I fear that the Leafs might lose him on waivers if he doesn’t fix some of the things that have been bugging Keefe for years.
Rasmus Sandin (LD, #38) — He understands the spacing of the game so well. Watch the following breakout and tell me what you see.
Me? I see a player who knows how to find open ice. He’s rarely going to blow by an NHL-quality skater with his speed, but he uses his mind and quick change-of-direction to get himself open on the breakout. That leads to zone exits, zone entries, and by extension, goals.
He also does a great job of this on the power play, skating himself into the open spot to receive a pass. By doing this, it forces the other two players on the half-wall to move and get themselves open, creating more motion on the power play. The Leafs desperately needed more of that last season with the man advantage. Something tells me Sandin will help provide it in 2021-22.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — Hands are the last thing to go, and at 38 years old, Spezza still has it when it comes to puck-skills. Those nifty mitts help him hold onto the puck for an extra half-second or two before ripping his next saucer pass. Whether he’s starting the breakout, keeping the cycle going in the offensive zone, or quarterbacking PP2, it’s clear to me that his passing is still in fine form.
That’s good news for Toronto’s Points per 60 leader in 2020-21, and yes, I’m referring to Jason Spezza.
Ondrej Kase (RW, #25) — We know the biggest concern with Kase is health. If we’re simply assessing his play on the ice, he’s been stellar for Toronto this preseason — and tonight is no exception.
He was making slip passes underneath in the defensive zone to start the breakout, zipping pucks tape-to-tape through the seam in the offensive zone, and threading some sauce in the neutral zone. I’m simply trying to come up with different ways of saying: his passing was awesome tonight.
Now, I don’t love Kase on the penalty kill, which is a role where Keefe appears to think he can provide some value. Personally, I prefer him as a driver in transition at 5v5 and a high-skill option on PP2, at least when all the stars are playing. His ability to shed opposing players along the boards and make the next pass is going to be a welcome addition, whether he’s driving Toronto’s third line or playing alongside more skill in the top six.
Joshua Ho-Sang (RW, #52) — There were a few hiccups on the breakout in the first period, but for the most part, Ho-Sang was flying this game. His speed in transition really helps him gain the zone with consistency, forcing opposing defenders to back off and concede the blue line.
This was extremely noticeable on the power play, although my-cohost here at Maple Leafs Hotstove, Anthony Petrielli, would like to remind me it’s the 5v5 play we should care about in the preseason, not 5v4 play. That seam pass Ho-Sang made to Engvall for a primary assist with the man advantage was nice, but what we really want to know is what he provides at even strength.
Well, he’s moving the puck from DZ to OZ, then creating some chances offensively with his passing. My favourite play of his was when he passed out of a shooting position, fooling the goaltender and temporarily giving the shooter plenty of net to shoot at. These are high-level plays that you shouldn’t be able to find on a PTO.
Then again, the Leafs have a surprising amount of depth at RW when you go down the depth chart:
- Mitch Marner
- William Nylander
- Ondrej Kase
- Jason Spezza
Unless you’re moving Nylander over to LW, it’s difficult to find a roster spot for Ho-Sang, who’s a right winger. Then again, this is the same team who has no problem putting Wayne Simmonds on his wrong side at 5v5.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, who’s looked like the better hockey player this preseason: Simmonds or Ho-Sang?
Kirill Semyonov (C, #94) — I’ve really been enjoying his game lately. Semyonov has a knack for making quick decisions with the puck. Whether it’s a quick deke or one-touch pass to a teammate in transition, he always seems to make the right read under pressure.
Another thing he does well is getting himself open with tight turns, finding an open patch of ice right before the pass arrives.
Good pinch + seam pass by TOR33 and a neat route by TOR94 to the net pic.twitter.com/6SqK2hooQW
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) October 4, 2021
There are so many forwards at the bottom of this Leafs lineup deserving of an NHL roster spot and I doubt Semyonov is going to claim one, but he’s really made an impression this preseason. I’ll be watching him closely over the next few months; the kid can make some plays.
The Hoefenmayer-Biega Pair — This was a solid game from both players. Noel Hoefenmayer showed off some of his passing ability with a few nice chip passes out of the zone and a gorgeous give-and-go with Spezza that led to a quality rush chance.
On the other side of things, Alex Biega had a great stick defensively tonight, breaking up plays at his own blueline in transition and deflecting slot passes in the defensive zone. He took a lick on the penalty kill, but otherwise, he looked quite solid tonight.
Jack Campbell (G, #36) — He wasn’t really tested tonight, but Campbell looked good in this game. There were a few moments he came way out of his crease to cut down the angle, which is probably a tad aggressive for him, so maybe that’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.
David Kampf (C, #64) — To help me rationalize my thoughts, here’s a breakdown of how I thought Kampf performed tonight:
- 5v5 Offense: 1 star
- 5v5 Defense: 4 stars
- 4v5 Defense: 5 stars
I loved the way he pressured opposing puck carriers on the PK, getting up in their grill and disrupting things before forcing a turnover. That puck pursuit also comes in handy at 5v5.
My biggest issue with Kampf is his offense.
He’s going to leave a lot of goals on the table because he can’t read the game fast enough to see that backdoor pass. It’s only one example, but when the puck is on Kampf’s stick off the rush, we probably shouldn’t expect much to happen.
Michael Bunting (LW #58) — This was a pretty quiet game for Bunting after what’s been an extremely impressive preseason. He did have one great scoring chance in front, followed immediately by a nice pass out front to Kase, but I’d like to see more physicality from Bunting in the dirty areas of the ice. That’s where he’s going to provide the most value on this team. He did mix it up with Josh Brown late in the game out in the neutral zone.
Joey Duszak (RD, #54) — He made a few high-skill plays with the puck, namely a backdoor pass to Adam Brooks after jumping up in the play. Duszak obviously wasn’t the most intimidating defenseman in puck battles. That’s never going to be his game, which is why the crafty passing is such an important part of his game.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — Part of me wants to be thrilled he went after Drake Batherson for running around in a preseason game. The other part wants to focus on the plays Simmonds didn’t make with the puck on his stick. Part of me loves his ability to win board battles with his strength and body position. The other part of me hates his inability to complete a pass.
I like this human being and don’t like the 5v5 hockey player. Consider me morally conflicted.
Nick Robertson (LW, #89) — This is one where my “eye test” strongly disagreed with the analytics, which always makes for an interesting mental hurdle. Looking at my notes, I pointed out that Robertson flashed his puck skills off the rush but had trouble getting to the “inside” of the ice throughout the course of the game.
Then I checked the box score and saw that he fired six shots from the slot while his line absolutely dominated at 5v5. Two of those came on the power play, so maybe that’s skewing things a little bit, although I still think I’m missing something here. It’s impossible for one person to see every action from 20 different players throughout a 60-minute hockey game, so maybe I overlooked a few positive plays from Robertson tonight?
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — His pairing ended up with excellent shot metrics at 5v5, but I’d argue that had more to do with Sandin running the show on the breakout. In fact, I thought Holl struggled in that department tonight, failing to find an open man on a few separate occasions before dumping the puck.
He also got burned by Alex Formenton for a breakaway and was forced to haul him down. Luckily for him, NHL referees hate calling penalty shots, even when the rulebook explicitly states they should be awarded.
Michael Amadio (C, #18) — To be honest, I don’t have anything to say about his game. Amadio scored a goal on a broken play, but otherwise, wasn’t very noticeable, which isn’t too surprising considering he was never considered a real threat to make this lineup.
Carl Dahlstrom (LD, #48) — I didn’t really notice him either aside from the time he got walked by Shane Pinto. Considering how horrific Dahlstrom has been this preseason, only one major blunder defensively might be considered a positive.
There’s just one thing I’d like to know: why did he get an extra preseason game over Filip Kral? I don’t love the idea of keeping Dahlstrom in for the PK when Kral was the significantly better player at 5v5.
Adam Brooks (C, #77) — I’ve seen a lot of people I respect praise Brooks for his play tonight, so this is a tough one for me. Personally, I didn’t notice many positive plays aside from his flukey goal on a broken play, whereas the only play of consequence I can remember is this bad turnover and even worse decision to pinch as F3 on a play that should have been a simple 2-on-2 rush.
I never like “bad mistaking” a player — overrating one bad mistake while undervaluing the little things they did to drive results. The flaws of human memory tend to really skew our perception on things, so maybe this is an example of me only remembering one major event and that event being negative.
Assessments like these are ones I like re-watching, so I can go back and see what I disagreed with most on a player’s performance, but I’m not sure I can convince myself to rewatch a preseason game against Ottawa.
Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — This is going to be a long year evaluating Kerfoot, isn’t it? I didn’t love his play in the regular season last year; he got outshot and out-chanced pretty badly whenever he played without William Nylander at 5v5. We’re off to a similar start in 2021, even if it’s just the preseason.
Kerfoot seems to find a way to make nothing out of something off the rush. He skates himself into bad ice and then chips it off the boards to nobody. I like the way he settles down pucks in the defensive zone, but is that a trait worth $3.5 million? His penalty killing is solid, but nothing extraordinary.
I’d love to be wrong on this one, but I’m just not seeing the value he provides at even strength.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Tweets of the Night
Guys I’m just gonna say it this TOR/OTT pre-season game between not a ton of NHLers on unfamiliar lines in front of not many people is not awesome
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) October 5, 2021
The funny part is that Ottawa was playing with most of their regulars.
I know they say you can never have too many NHL-calibre players, but it seems like the Leafs have too many NHL-calibre players.
— draglikepull (@draglikepull) October 5, 2021
Which is going to make it all that more painful when Simmonds cracks the lineup ahead of Ho-Sang.
Leafs didn't want to have a shootout because they had some players sick. Sheldon Keefe asked coach D.J. Smith to cancel it. #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) October 5, 2021
So the Ottawa Senators lost to a sick Toronto Marlies team? Looks like that five-year run of “unparalleled success” might have to wait another year, Eugene. Remember when he said he would spend close to the NHL’s salary cap every year from 2021 to 2025?
The more things change, the more they stay the same.