After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Mitch Marner’s status after leaving practice, John Tavares’ preparedness for the season, Jack Campbell entering an NHL season as a starter for the first time, and Jason Spezza taking over Auston Matthews’ spot on the left flank of the top power-play unit in Matthews’ absence.
Tuesday Practice Lines
#Leafs lines at practice:
(Spezza and Amadio alternating at C)
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 12, 2021
In the absence of Marner, Amadio is skating with the top PP unit during practice
Flanks: Kase, Engvall
Net front: Ritchie
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 12, 2021
Mitch Marner left practice after the collision with Wayne Simmonds. What is his status?
Keefe: He had a bit of a glancing blow there with Simmer on the ice. It is just precautionary at this point in time. We will evaluate in the morning and take it from there.
What stands out to you about the way John Tavares came into camp this year?
Keefe: Focused, I would say, which is something you can probably always say for John, but I just feel he’s taken it to another level. As an organization and as a team, since camp started, we talked about raising the standard we had last season. John is as focused as I have ever seen him — and as I said, he is a focused, committed guy. I just feel it’s been taken to another level.
He is very driven personally. Also, as he is leading our group, I think he is in a really good place both as a great player for us who is getting back to his health and getting ready for the season and also as our leader.
What does it mean when you say “raising the standard?” How do you define that?
Keefe: It is a difficult thing to define, of course. The way I look at it: We believe we had a good season last season in a lot of ways. We did a lot of really good things as a team that put us in a position to have success in the playoffs. Ultimately, of course, we know we didn’t get that done. It really is about the fact that we believe in the good things that we did and we need to continue with those, but it obviously needs to get to an even higher level.
We are seeking the ultimate goal here, which is to put together a program that sustains itself in difficult times. We felt we did that throughout the last regular season. Obviously, we didn’t get it done in the playoffs, but that is really where we are at. I feel really good about what we did to this point through preseason, and of course now, with the regular season starting, we are going to have to put that to the test even more.
Jack Campbell has been in the NHL for a while, but he is for the first time entering a season as the starter. What does it mean for him and the organization?
Keefe: It is a great accomplishment for him. As we know and has been talked about a lot this season, he has been through a lot to get to this position. He has worked extremely hard. He has had to continue to believe in himself and deal with adversity. He has earned the confidence of our organization here and of his teammates. He has been terrific all the way through camp. He has accepted a new partner here in Petr and worked very well with him in terms of that tandem.
I am excited for him for this season. It wasn’t even a question of who was going to start this game all offseason and all through camp. He has never given us a reason to think any different.
Have you seen more maturity from Travis Dermott on and off the ice entering his fifth season?
Keefe: I think so. I first started coaching him as a 20-year-old fresh out of junior coming to play for the Marlies. He has been through a lot since that period of time. If you look at it, of all of the players who have been with the Marlies, he jumped pretty quickly, relatively speaking, to the NHL. He has done a really good job to not go back there. He came down and played for us in the Calder Cup for that run after spending significant time with the Leafs, but since then, he has remained in the NHL.
As we have talked about, he is looking to find ways to continue to grow his role. We have definitely seen progress in him. We have also, at the same time, seen progress in the other guys — Liljegren, Sandin, and these guys have taken steps, too. That is all part of it with the increased competition. As you commit draft picks — first-round picks — to defensemen, there is going to be competition there, and that is where we are at right now.
Is there an area offensively you would like to take a step this year?
Keefe: In the regular season last year, we were pretty good in lots of areas. The power play is the most significant piece offensively we would want to get better in, of course. Last season, we started off really well and didn’t sustain it throughout the second half of the season. Consistency is really what it is all about in all areas of our game but especially offensively and especially on the power play. It is just about remaining even-keeled and continuing to work day-to-day. We are looking to get a really good process in place that can give us a chance at sustained success.
Why is Jason Spezza a good fit with the top guys in Auston Matthews’ absence?
Keefe: We just looked at playing on that flank on that side of the ice. We have been primarily using left-handed players through camp as placeholders for Auston. As we are going now and playing for real, we have looked at it. Mikheyev is not available for us now. I thought he had done a pretty good job for us in that spot. We had to make a decision.
Spezza has spent a lot of time throughout his career on that flank. Even though he is a right-handed guy, we just thought in terms of skill set, experienced, and leadership, he is the guy that can step in well in that spot. We are going to give him that opportunity tomorrow.