After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Michael Amadio making the team’s opening-day roster over Adam Brooks, the injury timeline for Ilya Mikheyev, and Auston Matthews missing the first week of the regular season.
Any word on Ilya Mikheyev?
Keefe: Yeah, he has a broken thumb that is going to require surgery. He has surgery in a few days, I think. It is looking for a minimum of eight weeks of recovery. It is a big loss for us and very unfortunate for Ilya, who was having an excellent camp for us and looked poised to have a big season.
He is back in the gym today with the guys training, doing what he can to make sure he stays ready. We will obviously be here and ready for him when he comes back.
John Tavares was saying Ilya was coming out of his shell more. How is this staff working to make sure this doesn’t derail the progress he was making?
Keefe: It really is important for any injured player. You feel disconnected from the team — you are on a different schedule, you are not traveling with the team, and you are not a part of the games. It is important that we continue to have him involved.
Today, he was in here early doing his work before most of the guys got in, but he was still around the group. That is important for him. Most important now is that he gets through his surgery well and he works on his recovery. I have no doubts in terms of his work ethic and the time he puts in the gym and on the ice.
Because of the nature of the injury, he will be able to skate before too long, I would think. His legs and skating are a big part of his game. We will miss him for sure when he is gone, but I know he will work very hard to make sure he is ready when he is healthy.
A lot of players around the league have gotten injured this preseason. Would you be in favour of a shorter preseason?
Keefe: I don’t think it was any longer than any other previous season other than the last. I have answered this question previously, and I think it is different for each player. For the established NHL players, I think it is too long, but each player is probably a little bit different. Generally speaking, the players don’t require three weeks to get ready, but there is a lot more that you are trying to sort through.
In a preseason, you have younger players trying to get themselves established, learning the system, and getting adjusted to the league. You are trying to evaluate. There are a lot of other things that are happening more than just preparing the NHL player.
The structure that has been there that is in place has been there for a great length of time. I don’t suspect it is going to change a whole lot.
In terms of how we manage these weeks, it is very unfortunate we lost Ilya to injury, but generally speaking, we come out of it pretty healthy here. We have had a couple of bumps and bruises along the way where guys have missed some time, but we got a lot of really good work done in practice. We were able to take some time out in Gravenhurst and I thought it was very productive. There are things that happen within this time frame that allow us to feel more prepared for Wednesday.
What is Auston Matthews’ status for Wednesday?
Keefe: He is not at the point right now where he is feeling comfortable. He is still not quite there. He is not going to be available for us this week. That is why you saw him in a different jersey and not part of a line today. We are just adjusting to that reality.
Clearly, as we are watching, he is not very far away. Our most important thing right now is to make sure he is 100% comfortable. He went through a season last season where he was not playing at 100%, and he is gone through this procedure to be in that position. We will make sure we are patient enough to allow that to happen.
As I said, he looks terrific out on the ice. He shows the impact he is going to have when he does get in the lineup for us. But him being 100% confident and comfortable is the most important thing for us right now, so we will be patient as that process plays out here.
In the lines without Auston, John Tavares was moved up to next to Mitch Marner. What was the thought process there?
Keefe: I hadn’t put John there save for a few shifts and maybe a practice or something through camp. We were counting on the fact that Auston was gearing towards being able to be available for us.
Shifting gears here now, I like John in that spot. We have used Kerfoot with Nylander and Mikheyev throughout a lot of the portion of the camp, so we will put Bunting there. We are confident in that. I have liked Kampf and Kase all the way through together. I just thought the lines sort of fell in place for us once we knew that Auston wasn’t going to be available in the early going here.
Can you talk about the decision to waive Adam Brooks in favour of Mike Amadio?
Keefe: It was a tough decision — one that I, frankly was not overly involved in. It is a management decision for them to sort through. As a coaching staff, we believed in both players.
We have more history with Adam, obviously. He was a big part of our team last season down the stretch — he came in, played an important role for us, and did extremely well here. Mike Amadio, at the same time, has got significantly more experience in the league and also has had a very good camp here. A decision had to be made, and obviously, it was made.
I really am happy with how Adam has progressed over his time with the Marlies to the role that he played for us last season. It is difficult to see him in this situation, but we value him as a player. One way or another, I am going to be happy for him today — he is either remaining in the NHL with another club, or he is going to be remaining in our organization, and we like a lot about him. That would be a win for us.
He would like to remain here, but the waiver system is in place for a resason. It is to give guys a chance to remain in the NHL.
What have you liked about Amadio through camp?
Keefe: I like his skill set. He is a versatile guy. He can play center or wing, power play, and penalty kill. He has really good poise with the puck and is a confident guy. He spent a great deal of his offseason here in the facility training. I just feel like he was really comfortable coming into camp, and that was an advantage for him. It was also an advantage for our staff and our players and his teammates and such that they could get comfortable with him.
In each situation that we gave him throughout this reseason, I think he did a really good job for us. He is just a good player in that sense. He is a confident guy that is looking for an opportunity here. If the Mikheyev injury didn’t happen, it might look a little different, but these opportunities come about, and I know he is excited for it.
With Auston Matthews out, it looks like Nick Ritchie has maybe taken over the flank on the power play. How mcuh does that change the dynamic?
Keefe: The dynamic does change, but we were working mainly on 5-on-3 today. At 5-on-4, we will have a different look than what you saw today. That group was doing 5-on-3 while Spezza’s group was doing 5-on-4. Tomorrow will be a little bit different than that, but definitely, we do have to adjust from what we were charting towards.
Have you made a decision about your starting goalies?
Keefe: Jack will go Wednesday, and Petr on Thursday.