After practice on Sunday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the recall of Nick Robertson and Wayne Simmonds to the big club and goaltender Ilya Samsonov’s promising start to the season.
Practice Lines – October 16
#Leafs lines at practice Oct. 16/22
Absent: Nylander (maintenance)
— David Alter (@dalter) October 16, 2022
Is the benefit of being able to place Matt Murray on LTIR that you’re able to get some extra bodies up who can help the team?
Keefe: We want Matt Murray to be healthy and rolling with us, but the silver lining of it is that we do get to have some bodies here. I think that is good because we have some people who, in different circumstances, would have made our team and been with our group that are now back.
With that comes more competition and more accountability. I think that is healthy for our team. It keeps guys honest in terms of keeping their spot, whether you are a guy who has been playing or if you’re a guy who has been called up. At the same time that we called some guys up today, there is a larger group down there with the Marlies that we felt good about their camp and what they can bring for us.
Competition is healthy. It was a difficult thing having 20 guys. That is no longer the case. I like that about it. It is good to see those guys back here.
With the road trip coming up, is it especially nice to have the extra bodies?
Keefe: Yeah, heading out West without extra guys would have been a challenge logistically more than anything. That is helpful in that sense. We are hopeful we can remain healthy here, but I like having the competition within the roster. I think that is a very good thing for our team and for the players. We are well equipped to be able to handle injury situations at all positions, including goal.
Do you anticipate Nick Robertson getting into a game sooner than later?
Keefe: I certainly would. In terms of when that is, we will have to see. Our lineup for tomorrow is not set yet. Obviously, Willy had a maintenance day today. He wasn’t feeling well. We will see where he is at as well as the rest of our group going into tomorrow and then make some determinations from there.
Nick deserves to make our team with the effort and performance that he had through camp and the growth that he has shown. Our group has been rolling here now. It is on the guys who have been playing to keep their spots. It is on Nick to keep the momentum going.
How did you deliver the message to him at the end of camp?
Keefe: Just that he had earned it and he was a victim of circumstance. He didn’t require waivers. Others did. The salary cap being what it is, you have to make some decisions. He was caught up in that.
At the same time, the NHL is a very competitive place. There are 12 other guys among the forwards that we thought also had really good camps and earned their spots. Decisions have to be made that don’t go your way. It is how you handle that which determines what is next.
I talked about the fact that we were going to go to Montreal and play a game, something might happen in the game, and then you come back. Make sure, between now and then, you are doing things to be ready for that whenever that call might come.
He played two games for the Marlies. I watched a bit of the game from yesterday. It seems like he did well, went down with a good attitude, and now he is back. That is sort of the way it works when you take care of what you can control. Things find a way of sorting themselves out.
With Wayne Simmonds, is it easier now that he can be a part of the team with the drills in practice? Was he the next man up in terms of playing?
Keefe: I think he is the next man up. That was the decision to bring him back into our fold with the way that it worked out. We have an opportunity to bring him back in.
If you look at Wayne or Kyle Clifford, they were part of the circumstances. They are guys who, if the roster was larger, they likely would have been here. We would’ve had to make some tough decisions there. To have the opportunity to bring Wayne back in the fold, we feel good about it.
He is still an important guy for us. He brings a lot in terms of his experience and his presence. It is nice to have him back. He was practicing today, and he hasn’t been able to get much in over the last week in terms of team practices. That is helpful for him in terms of being more ready to play.
It is certainly nice to have him around.
You mentioned that Ilya Samsonov is on a bit of a mission this season. What leads you to believe that?
Keefe: The first thing was his decision to come here. He had other opportunities. He could’ve gotten more money or more years. This was the fit that he wanted.
Matt Murray, for that matter, as well. Both guys had opportunities to go to other places. Both guys chose this situation and ran toward this situation. I think that is the very first thing that they see opportunity here. If you are coming here, you know what it is about in terms of what our team is trying to accomplish and in terms of playing in our market.
If you look at the work both goalies have put in… You asked about Ilya, and he has been very focused and dialed in. He is in the gym right now after playing last night and playing two games in the prior three days. He is in there getting extra work in. That is what it is all about. If you are going to be a consistent and reliable goaltender, you have to put the work in. He has done that.
Samsonov said he appreciated you checking in on him at the end of practice. Was there a specific message you wanted to deliver?
Keefe: Just sort of to lay out the plan for him. He is going to be busy. Because of that, it is that much more important that he takes care of himself and is ready for the extra load. Yesterday, he looked good. He should be confident with the work he has put in and how he has performed. I wanted to make sure he was still smiling.
He was smiling when he talked back in camp about how he struggled against the Leafs last season. What was your process like in the offseason when he came up as a candidate in terms of what you saw in his potential to join the team at the time?
Keefe: His name came up and a lot of the work when it came to the goaltending specifically… It’s not my area of expertise, but you still do the work and you watch. You see and you sort through the other names and the other options.
We looked at it as a guy with a lot of talent and a lot left to prove — and yet also experienced. We lose sight of the fact that he played in the playoffs last year, went up against the President’s Trophy winner, and did a good job. There was a point in time when you thought that series might go the other way, and he was the guy in the net for that. He has some experience that a lot of other players in a similar situation did not have.
The talent — you can see it with where he is drafted and the ability that he has. It is on us as an organization to help him be the goalie that he is capable of being. He has done his part in terms of listening and being accepting of the guidance and the work he has to do. So far, the results have been good. It is early in the season, and we have to continue to work with him.
Have you had a chance to talk to Matt Murray yet?
Keefe: No, I haven’t yet. I saw him in there getting some treatment. I was going to pop in, but [the media] was my priority.