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

After practice on Sunday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed Rasmus Sandin’s ability to play the right side, the status of Pierre Engvall and Jake Muzzin, and Nick Robertson’s recent offensive breakthrough in preseason.

Practice Lines – October 2

How did Rasmus Sandin look in his first practice with the team?

Keefe: I thought he looked fine. There was a lot happening on the ice — and a lot of guys — so I wasn’t zeroing in on him very much nor did I want to. It is going to take some time before he is at the point where it would be fair to evaluate him. For right now, we just want to get him back with the group, which we were able to, reacclimate him, and get him up to speed on the things that have been going on — the meetings that he has missed and anything that we are doing differently.

There will be a lot happening for him over the next few days. He is still sort of going through his fitness protocols and all of that, too. He is running on the treadmill going pretty quickly right now. He is going to have to get settled in. He won’t play on Monday, but we intend to get him in at the end of the week.

Are the 10 days you have left in camp enough runaway for Sandin to be ready for game one of the regular season?

Keefe: I don’t see being an issue. In a lot of ways, you kind of treat him like an injured player. He would be further ahead than a lot of injured guys because he has been skating regularly on his own. I am not so worried about that piece of it. It is more so the meetings and the different things that we have changed that he has missed to this point and the reps that come with it.

He is a smart player and a young enough guy that he will get up to speed pretty quickly, I would think. It is just the fitness part of it and kind of picking up on the things that he has missed in terms of the meetings and what have you.

Do you envision trying Sandin on the right side?

Keefe: I think it is something we want to look at for sure. I spoke with him about that. He has done it before at different times, but we will see how it all shakes out here. We have a week to get through here and three exhibition games to get through. We will see where the group is at, where Rasmus is at, and make the determinations from there.

Is there something about his skill set that makes Sandin suitable for a move to the right side?

Keefe: His skill set, his awareness, his intelligence, and his instincts. That is all part of it. I have seen him over there before. I am confident that he can make that switch when needed and when called upon.

We have tried different people there. Mete has been there since the start of camp. Rielly has taken some reps there. We know Brodie is strong there. Holl is going to play the right side. We will see how it goes throughout.

Liljegren is going to get back here at some point, too, which gives us another right shot. Things will move around. A lot of our guys are going to have to be flexible.

What did you think of Pierre Engvall’s first practice and his path to getting up to speed?

Keefe: That is an injury situation, so how that injury responds to pushing it and being challenged… He actually did a little more on the ice today than he was expected to do. That’s positive. That is a sign that he was feeling good out there.

If that continues, we will ramp him up. I haven’t had any discussions as to whether or not there is any chance he might be available to play this weekend. I would imagine a lot of that will be determined based on how things go. For now, we will take it a day at a time and go from there.

Is Jake Muzzin still progressing towards game action?

Keefe: Yeah. There have been no setbacks, I have been told. Any time I have talked to him, he is upbeat, positive, and feeling good. He won’t play on Monday, but the hope is that we will continue to increase his workload throughout the week. We will make a decision about the weekend.

What is required for Nick Robertson to impact a game positively?

Keefe: It is to make plays, get to the net, get the puck to the net, get on the scoresheet — all of those kinds of things. That is one way to do it. In his case, I think that was sort of the missing link. He has been working really hard. He has been on the puck. I have been happy with his play away from the puck.

He is an offensive player, so a lot of times, if a guy is not showing the ability to do it consistently with that kind of skill set, those are the kinds of guys you want to give a little more time with the Marlies and really refine their game offensively at the pro level before bringing them in.

It has been nice to see. In the last two preseason games, it is the best I have seen Nick look in a Leafs jersey. That has been really positive to see.

We just want to continue to monitor that. With the remaining NHL games, I would expect there will be more NHL players playing in each game. With that, Nick and the rest of our group will be challenged more.

Is it a case of adjusting to the pace and the size?

Keefe: It is all of those things. It is the pace, the structure, the size — all of the things you need to figure out what works for you and how you can create offense. In some cases, what you have done to this point works right away for some guys. For others, you have to make adjustments.

I would put Nick in the adjustment category. That takes time. He is a young guy, as we all know. He appears to be making those adjustments. We can see the contributions coming as a result. We are just going to continue monitoring that and work with him. We are very encouraged.

The goalies were using blinders in practice to help with tracking. Can you speak to that innovation you have seen with Curtis Sanford?

Keefe: From what Curtis has told me, I think it is something that is gaining a little more traction in the goalie community. I think you’ll see more of it happening around the league. I know we are not the only team using that device.

I don’t know a whole great deal about it, but I am told it does help the tracking. It forces the goalies to really have to turn their head and use their eyes to find the puck.

With Tavares out, what makes Michael Bunting a good fit on the second power-play unit?

Keefe: The skill set and the familiarity with Matthews and Marner is a natural fit. He is also very good around the net. The skill sets, in that sense, are pretty similar.

That is probably the biggest difference that Bunts doesn’t bring — the faceoff presence in John’s ability to win the draw, and it also allows Matthews to be in more of a shooting position. If Auston ends up taking a lot more faceoffs, there is a difference there.

In terms of the net front and the entry routes, we think [Bunting] can fit in well that way.