Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs

After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Josh Ho-Sang’s appointment to the Team Canada Olympic roster, Mitch Marner’s contributions on the penalty kill, the respect amongst the team for Morgan Rielly, and the challenge ahead against Anaheim on Wednesday night.

Practice Lines – January 25

Josh Ho-Sang was officially named to the Team Canada Olympic roster. What have you gotten to learn about him in his time with the Marlies through reports from the team and staff?

Keefe: It is great for him. It is a great opportunity and a great honour. To play in the Olympics is very rare for an athlete. I think it is tremendous for him.

As far as his time in the organization, he has done nothing but work extremely hard. They have been happy with him down there with the Marlies. He has produced for them. Most importantly, he has had a good attitude and worked to get better and re-establish himself in North America. He has done a good job of that.

The recognition of the Olympics is a very good thing. All of that comes through the work he has put in and the talent that he has.

Do you have an update on Ian Scott? He has practiced with the Leafs for the past few days. Is he on the taxi squad? Is he at full health?

Keefe: I am not certain what his exact status is. I know that he recently went and played a period with the Growlers. That went well. He is just continuing on the path of getting himself back ready to play games — full games.

That is really it as far as I know. Obviously, he is here, and when he is with us, we are going to give him some work and take advantage of having him around.

As we approach the halfway mark of the season, what would you say is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about your group over the last few months?

Keefe: I don’t know if I would use the term “surprised” with anything. We feel pretty good about the way things have gone. There is nothing that I would say has exceeded expectations or anything like that. I don’t know that there is anything that has not gone well that has caught us off guard.

When you look at the season as a whole to date, we are happy with where we are at. There are certainly things we can get better at. If you look at the additions we made to the roster this season, there is always uncertainty as to how those things will play out, how the chemistry would work, and how players would perform for us. We certainly have learned a great deal of respect and trust in those that have come in here this season.

If you look at Bunting, Kase, Kampf on the forward end, and Petr Mrazek now starting to get some momentum with our practice days after a great start the other night — all the way through our group, we look at that. It has been very nice to see, has worked out in our favour, and has given us increased depth.

What do you think Mitch Marner does so well to create opportunities for himself and others on the penalty kill?

Keefe: His ability to anticipate plays is the biggest thing. He generally has a pretty good sense of where the puck is going to go — often times before the opponent even knows it is going there — because he is reading what the most likely option is going to be and he has the ability to process that quicker than most.

He can then jump on the puck quickly and create turnovers. He is feisty and relentless on it. That leads to loose pucks and opportunities to go the other way.

I think anticipation is the key. It is on both sides of the puck — offensively and defensively. Certainly, when you have that ability, it can be an asset for you on the penalty kill.

How are you liking the new lines in practice the past few days, and is it your intention to debut them against the Ducks on Wednesday night?

Keefe: I think they have looked good. I am happy with them. These lines have been used before, right? Matthews, Bunting, and Kase have been very good when together this season. We have used Tavares with Marner and Mikheyev a lot over my time here. That is not new for me.

Kampf centering Kerfoot and Nylander is new, but Kerfoot and Nylander have had a great deal of time together and have great chemistry. In fact, together, they were our most productive line in the playoffs against Montreal last season.

I am not needing to read too much into what I am seeing in practice, whether it was good or bad. I think it has been a good opportunity for those guys to get reps and get comfortable.

That is how we are going to start tomorrow. We want to get a look at that. We will adjust along the way if need be. We do have to give it some time to play out a little bit as well if we really want to be true to the process of seeing how this composition can play out for our team and also how the opponents contend with it.

The players have been raving about Morgan Rielly over the past few days, calling him underrated. He made it clear he is not worried about the plaudits and is very comfortable with how he is viewed at his position. What do you think his demeanour means to him and to the team when he doesn’t care about that kind of thing?

Keefe: We have talked about this countless times. It is a big part of Morgan’s character and why he is so revered by his teammates, by our fans, and within our organization — just how he handles himself and conducts himself. He is all about the team.

He has great talent and the ability to leave his mark on every game and make a difference in every game. He has certainly been doing that for us, but it is his character and how he conducts himself off the ice that makes players want to speak out about the fact that he may be deserving of more recognition around the league.

I don’t think he is too worried about that. He is just doing his job every day. When he is focused on that, he is a great player. He makes a big difference. All of the other things will come with our team’s success.

There are a lot of great players around the league that are deserving of playing in an All-Star Game — for example — and there are only so many spots available. It is just a matter of maintaining a high level of play and focusing on what you can control. Morgan certainly epitomizes that.

Jason Spezza mentioned that the Anaheim Ducks have the team’s attention after beating Tampa and Boston. Can you elaborate on the challenge ahead in tomorrow’s game?

Keefe: Those are two things that will have our attention, but they have been a good team all season long.  They went through a tough stretch there in the last little while, but they were as good as any team in the league when we saw them last. They were rolling.

Lots of talent, a good mix of young talent and veteran talent — we are going to have to be ready for that. As always, the game is about our game and having ourselves looking a lot more like we did the other night in Long Island. If we do that, we give ourselves a chance.

Who is getting the start in net?

Keefe: Jack Campbell will start. It was always the plan to have him go back at it. We will stay with that.