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

After practice on Monday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the acquisition of Dryden Hunt, Calle Järnkork’s imminent return to the lineup, using five forwards on the power play, and the team’s recent dip on the road with consecutive losses.

Practice Lines – December 19

What went into the decision to move on from Denis Malgin?

Keefe: I am not the General Manager, so I don’t make those decisions.

From what I know of the player, it is just a different type of player. Trying to change up the depth of our team a little bit there.

Are you going to give Dryden Hunt an opportunity once he arrives?

Keefe: Yeah, for sure. Holidays are right around the corner here, so we’ll see how things go. My understanding is that he will travel out here tomorrow and be available for our practice before the Philadelphia game. We will see from there.

Any time you acquire a player, you want to give them some time to get comfortable, but he has been playing regularly in the league. I certainly think he will get an opportunity.

What do you know about his skill set?

Keefe: Not overly familiar with what he has done this season, but I coached against him a lot in the American league and at different times in the NHL. He is a guy who plays a hard and pretty simple game. He is physical and competitive.

Not a lot has happened for him offensively in the NHL, but he has scored and been a good player at the AHL level. He protects the puck well and all of those kinds of things. To that end, he brings a bit of a different element to the depth of the team.

It must be good to see Calle Järnkork partaking in a full practice. Why did you want to get him straight back into the spot with Tavares and Marner?

Keefe: Very positive. Good to see him out there. We have missed him. You can see it just in the practice. He brings a lot to the practice as a veteran NHL player that moves his feet, can make a pass, and shoot a puck. It makes a difference, to me, having him out there. He can make a difference to our lineup as well.

We started to play him with those guys before he got hurt there, and we liked what we had seen from him. We thought there were positive signs there, and then he gets interrupted. I just think it made perfect sense to go right back to it.

Today was his first full practice with our team. It seems like it went well. We are trending towards him returning tomorrow, but we will see how things are when he wakes up tomorrow and make a call from there.

What is the thinking behind carrying forward with the extra forward on the power play?

Keefe: I think we are just looking through a different option and something we haven’t really looked at. I don’t necessarily look at it as a long-term solution, but I do think at a time when we have an injury to Rielly and the power play hasn’t been going well of late, if we are going to try something like this, I just think it makes sense right now.

If nothing else, it gives Mitch more reps at the top. I like what I saw from him there the other day in terms of how quickly he made the decisions and got the puck on and off his stick. He delivered it to the net. He is a very confident guy. He is not rattled by it in any way.

We will see how it goes. Any time I have used five forwards — and I have at different times — you like it, and over time, you seem to revert back to having one defenseman. We will give this a shot, see how it goes, and see if it can breathe some life into the power play.

Is Michael Bunting all good after taking the puck to the face?

Keefe: I didn’t see him, but I heard him. Usually, when you can hear him, you know things are pretty good and he is himself.

What would you like to see cleaned up coming off of the two losses on the road?

Keefe: We played two good teams on the road and two teams that — just like us — were confident playing well and prepared to play the game and make it hard on us. In both games, we ended up trailing and trying to climb our way out of that. That is a tough thing to do, especially on the road.

There are some things, especially with how we handle the pressure and break the puck out of our zone. Any time things haven’t gotten well for us, it has really been about how we move the puck on our half of the ice.

That is an area of focus for us. It seems to really correlate with when we are not playing well. I do think we have improved dramatically in that area. It coincides with the results that we got through November.

We are going to play a really good Tampa team. Of course, we know them very well. It is another team that is playing well with lots of confidence coming in here. We are expecting another difficult game.