After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of his injured players (Jake Muzzin, Pierre Engvall, Adam Gaudette), the development of prospects Fraser Minten and Ty Voit, Jordie Benn and Victor Mete’s ability to play the right side, and Denis Malgin’s opportunity next to John Tavares and William Nylander.
Practice Lines – Sep. 26
Leafs lines from Group 1 practice Sept. 26/22
— David Alter (@dalter) September 26, 2022
How is Jake Muzzin progressing? Have you gotten the results of the evaluation?
Keefe: I know he got onto the ice today, so that is a sign that things have progressed well for him. Last I spoke with him, I know he was having better days and feeling a lot better for sure, but I don’t know how today went with the skating.
Did the situation with Muzzin come out of the blue considering he said he was feeling good on Wednesday and then couldn’t go on Thursday?
Keefe: Yeah, it did. It crept up on him. There were a couple of little things that were bugging him leading up to camp that really weren’t prevalent all summer long, but as things ramped up, there were a couple of things that were on his radar. He was feeling well enough to go, and then not so much.
It is not related to anything he went through last season. It is just something he is dealing with right now.
How about Adam Gaudette’s status?
Keefe: He banged up his shoulder in the game the other night. He is going to be day to day. We are going to have to see how he is on Tuesday and take it from there.
You never like injuries and they are a part of the game, but are they a concern to you right now?
Keefe: It is part of the game. You don’t like them to happen in camp. It is a time when you are trying to get everybody up to speed. It is an important time of year to get ready for the season.
That said, if we were to look at it from Muzzin’s perspective, I look at it last season, and he came back in the playoffs with a significant amount of time there. There was not a lot of time to get ready for game action. He was thrown right into the most intense time of year, and I thought he played his best hockey of the season. I am less concerned about it for a veteran like him.
With Engvall, it is a little bit of a different situation there. Athletically and from a fitness perspective, he is a freak of nature that way, so I am not concerned about that, but it is nice to have the guys on the ice at this time of year learning the structure. There are little subtleties that we have changed within our structure. It is important to be around for that.
They are in every meeting and around the team, so that is helpful.
Is Engvall closer to a return at all?
Keefe: I think he is getting there. He has been on the ice three or four times. He continues to progress.
If you could map out Fraser Minten’s career path, what would it look like from this camp to when he ultimately makes this team?
Keefe: It would be tough to put any sort of ceiling on a guy like that for sure. He’s gotten better every single day that he has been here. It has been fun to watch him and work with him right from the prospects tournament or to take it back further, at development camp and meeting him at the draft.
He just has a lot happening with his game. He is extremely competitive and physical. He doesn’t mind getting involved in the physical part of the game. He is very smart positionally. He is in the right spots. He is a worker. He asks good questions.
He has a maturity to his game that you don’t find often coming fresh out of the draft, especially when you get out of the top half of the first round. From that end of it, I have been extremely impressed with him. He has gotten better every single day that he has been here. He is soaking it in.
I really liked his game the other night. There was one clip where he tracked down someone from behind almost a zone or so away and didn’t stop moving until he caught him and got the puck off of him. Those are the kinds of things he does extremely well that tell me he is going to be a very responsible, two-way center. He can kill penalties and all of that. I think there is enough of a skill set there that he is going to continue to get better offensively, too.
Also on the prospect front, what has Ty Voit shown you?
Keefe: I have liked what I have seen from Ty going back to when I watched him in the prospects tournament. I know he has dealt with injuries and we didn’t get to see him in much of our camp last season and it was a very short prospects tournament for him a year ago. When he got in this year, I liked his game.
He is a guy who can make plays and puts up points, but I saw a more competitive side of him than what I had expected. We wanted to give him a little bit more of a taste of it in practice by having him with the NHL guys.
Certainly, he is a super talented guy. He has to continue to get stronger, stay healthy, and continue working at his game when the puck is not on his stick. When it is on his stick, he has that part figured out.
How did you think Jordie Benn looked alongside Morgan Rielly on the right side?
Keefe: I wouldn’t take much out of practice. We did want to get Jordie some reps on the right side, though. That was something we wanted to do coming into camp. We got that with Mete and Dahlstrom. Now we want to give Benn some runway there.
I haven’t watched the practice back yet or anything like that, so I don’t want to read too much into it, but I wanted to give him those reps and play him with Morgan. I thought Benn had a good game the other night. He showed the competitive side of him. He is going to keep the play in front of him and defend really well. No matter who is partner is, they will benefit from that.
What have you liked from Victor Mete in that spot?
Keefe: He uses his feet to get out of trouble. I coached enough against him to know that he can skate, but to see it again from our side of it, there were times where we were in bad spots and he used his feet to get us into good space and keep the play alive or used his feet to kill a play. That really stands out.
You can see the players who have played in the NHL. Early in camp, it makes a difference. The experience and confidence that they bring is really obvious. From that end of it, I think he has shown very well.
Do his feet help him when playing on the off side?
Keefe: I think it helps for sure. He gets out of trouble. A lot of times, when you are on your off side, you get into trouble a little more frequently than most. Brodie is not necessarily a guy who does it with his feet; he does it with his brain and body positioning. Having the ability to escape bad spots is important.
On his off side, I think he has fared well with that. It is a tricky thing, but I have liked what we have seen from him. Between Mete, Benn, and Dahlstrom, for those guys who have spent time in the NHL, you can see them showing well early in camp here.
How did you think Denis Malgin looked with John Tavares and William Nylander? Do you envision other players getting that change in the next couple of weeks?
Keefe: I thought he looked really good again today. He made a ton of plays. He is a confident guy at protecting the puck and getting it to others. What we have seen from him in this camp early on is an extra hunger and competitiveness to get the puck back. If you are going to be an undersized, skilled player who is going to have any success in the NHL, you have to have that intangible or it is very difficult.
That, to me, is what he has shown. If there is anything about him that is different, it is that little bit of extra hunger without the puck. If you do that, you are going to get the puck on your stick a lot more. When he has the puck, he is very good.
I have really liked that. In terms of how that shakes out, it will be depending on how it goes there with Malgy. Gaudette was getting that look and is out now. That opportunity has presented itself. Malgin gets in there today, and I thought he did a good job of it.
In talking to some of the older players, there seems to be an emphasis on flexibility and core activation — and not so much on explosiveness — in order to achieve longevity. Are you seeing that with some of your veterans as they prepare themselves?
Keefe: I do notice that. We have experts that spend their time on that with our players off the ice in terms of what is best for them. Part of it is the player knowing their body. Over the course of time in the NHL, you know what works for you, how you can keep yourself feeling good and healthy, and you make tweaks along the way.
For a guy like Giordano, this was the first off-season he’s had where he has remained in the facility with the strength coaches, skill coaches, nutritionists, and culinary staff available. It is the whole operation there that can help a player optimize their offseason. I think that is an important piece.
Over time, each guy figures out what works for them. You certainly see as guys are getting older, them spending more time on maintenance, maintaining their body, stretching, rollouts, time on the table, and those kinds of things. There is a certain routine that goes with keeping yourself fresh.
John Tavares, to me, has it down to a science. He knows his body as well as anyone. In watching him go through his routine, it is something to behold. It is very meticulous.
Once through Wednesday’s game, is the plan to give Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray full 60-minute games?
Keefe: Yeah, that is the plan. We will see how Wednesday goes as Murray gets through his game, but that is the plan starting on Friday. Samsonov will get the full go there.