Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach

After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the latest status updates on Mitch Marner, Pierre Engvall, and Ondrej Kase, Kase’s fit next to Auston Matthews, and Alex Kerfoot’s career-high pace offensively.

Practice Lines – January 10

Is there an update on the status of Pierre Engvall and Mitch Marner?

Keefe: Both guys remain in protocol at this point. I don’t have [information on a possible return] right now.

How might the dynamic of the David Kampf line change with the personnel that is on it now as opposed to when Kase and Engvall were there?

Keefe: When you take out important players from your lineup, it is going to impact your depth greatly. Each line gets a little bit weaker. The dynamics change in those ways as you lose your depth. It is not the same type of line. If we are looking at the last game, we were using them a little bit differently.

At the same time, with Kampf in particular, at times, we moved him around a little bit and played him with different wingers in different spots just to still be able to get some of those defensive faceoffs in defensive situations. That is really it. It would be more moving Kampf around periodically.

When you are on the road anyway, you are a little more apt to just roll your lines and keep your top guys out there as much as you can. That will likely remain the approach until we get our bodies back.

What does getting Kase back do for the forward group?

Keefe: When you are missing guys, it changes things dramatically. Any time you get a guy back, it is going to give you the extra depth and extra options.

As it relates to Kase in particular, he got through practice today. That is a good sign. As it relates to tomorrow’s game, his status is still unknown. He will be more of a game-time decision tomorrow.

Certainly, when he is in the lineup for us, we are a much deeper team in all regards. He is another guy we trust to play against anybody and on any line. He plays on the power play and the penalty kill. He plays late in games. It makes a big difference to our team when he is in there.

When we have played without him, we have felt his absence. When you couple that with missing Marner and Engvall — and Marner, specifically, as a right winger — those are big holes to fill. You are always looking for guys to step up in those situations.

I look at Kase as a guy who did exactly that when Marner was out prior to Christmas. He was outstanding there. I look at Kerfoot — any time we have had to move him around, he has been outstanding for us. We are just looking for more of those types of situations to bring out those types of efforts from guys, whether it is Ritchie, Simmonds, or Spezza.

All throughout our lineup, we have gotten good efforts from those guys when called upon. We are going to need more of that.

What did you like about how Kase fared when he played with Auston Matthews earlier this season?

Keefe: I really liked the way that he fit in with Auston. He looked comfortable. He brought the same work habits that he has brought on other lines. That is important to help that line get the puck back and play in the offensive zone. He has the skillset to make a play — he holds onto the puck, he makes plays with it, and that is something that Auston values greatly as most great players would.

Ondrej has fit in very well in that way. With his personality alone, he makes you want to play with the guy. He is bringing that passion and energy every night. No matter where he is in the lineup, guys are happy to have that on their side. I am seeing that and picking up on that with Auston as well.

Alex Kerfoot has always had the versatility to his game, but what have you appreciated about his game that has allowed him to produce more offense this season?

Keefe: I think he just looks really comfortable this season. Last season, it was his second go-around here. I thought he took steps last season. Through the end of the season in that playoff series against Montreal, he was outstanding for us. He has just picked up from there.

Coming back now in his third season here, he is a big part of our team and a big part of our leadership group. That just gives a player confidence. At the same time, he has had more consistency in his role playing mainly on left wing, although we have moved him around when necessary or needed to because of injuries.

Because he has had that consistent role, he just knows what is going to be asked of him each night, and he goes out and does that. At the same time, he has remained versatile and flexible when I have asked him to do something else or play a different role in a different spot, be it at center or on his off-wing the other night. He just accepts that and keeps going.

He looks really confident and comfortable in his role and in his place on our team.

As far as the extra bodies, are the extended stretches without games something you need to be mindful of with someone like Timothy Liljegren? There was also the pause, so it borders on almost a month. How do you use what happened there with Covid protocol in making decisions in that regard?

Keefe: It is challenging. As we have talked about, you get players that come off of having Covid and everybody has been responding differently in terms of getting up to speed.

Even if you look at a guy like Nick Ritchie, he was a healthy scratch for us coming out of the break there and was sick — non-Covid related — before Christmas. He missed that Edmonton game. His stretch of not playing was significant.

You are mindful of that. You want to keep guys going. At the same time, you do have to make decisions. Especially at this stretch of the schedule, we need to give ourselves the best opportunity to get going, to find some consistency in our lineup, and to get our players into a rhythm.

It becomes a little bit more challenging, but each player is working to stay sharp and find their way back to the point that they are comfortable and ready to play games.

The team will have Auston Matthews, Jack Campbell, and maybe some others at the All-Star Game. Is it an honour to have that many talented players on your roster?

Keefe: It is a showcase for the league, for the players themselves, and for the organization. We are very fortunate to have a lot of options and players that can represent our team well. The more the better.

We have a lot of guys who have earned that distinction this season. All-Star games are always tough to get everybody into because of the format, but as we all know, we have a lot of players that are having great seasons.