After practice on Thursday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Ryan O’Reilly’s personality and intangibles, the official word that Jake Muzzin will not be returning this season, and the status of Rasmus Sandin’s injury.
Practice Lines – February 23
Lines at Leafs practice
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Tavares – O'Reilly – Marner
Engvall – Kampf – Jarnkrok
Aston-Reese – Acciari – Kerfoot
Rielly – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl
Benn – Timmins
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 23, 2023
What do you think a practice will do for Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari as they get adjusted to the team?
Keefe: It can only help. It is the next piece of the puzzle. They have played a home game. They have played a couple of games on the road now and spent time with their teammates.
Getting that feel for the practice, being in this facility, and seeing more new faces sort of completes that adjustment period for them. Everything will start to feel a little more like normal, or at least a new normal, for them.
I think both guys have been adjusting very well. In talking to them today, they just felt like today was a good day for them.
What stands out to you about O’Reilly off the ice? He was the last one off the ice. What are you noticing about him as a personality?
Keefe: The way I have been able to articulate is that he is a very fun and easygoing guy. He doesn’t take himself or anything else too seriously, and yet he takes his game, his routine, and his craft extremely seriously. He works extremely hard at it.
That is a pretty rare balance. You see a lot of guys who are very serious and at times maybe need to loosen up and have a little fun. I think he has that good balance. There is a great level of confidence that comes with the type of career and accomplishments that he has had being such a leader in St. Louis and winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe.
He just has a great confidence about him that allows him to just be confident in who he is and be himself. Right from the moment he stepped into our facilities, to me, he has just been himself and looked very comfortable. I think that has allowed the adjustment to happen very quickly for him.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say he is an extremely important part of our team, but he is also bringing a lot of things to our team that are really going to help us in a lot of areas — not just in what his on-ice contributions are.
You have had O’Reilly, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner together. How many different iterations of lines have you scratched down on your iPad, notebook, or whiteboard in terms of potential combinations moving forward?
Keefe: Lots, especially now that we have been through it and you see how John has really embraced being on the wing, how that has gone, and knowing that O’Reilly has the ability to play the wing as well.
We have various other guys that can move around in positions. There are lots of options there for sure. I am very intrigued by the ability to move things around. As I told the guys from that line, in particular, while I do want to try different things, I don’t think it makes any sense to be switching things every game or every couple of games.
We don’t have that much schedule, but we do have enough schedule where we can give some things time to breathe a little bit before moving on to the next thing. There probably will be a time when, even when things are rolling, I do have to try some different things just to be certain that we have given some time to multiple looks to be prepared for anything the future may bring.
What was your reaction to Jake Muzzin being shut down for the season? How has he continued to help the group off the ice?
Keefe: It is not necessarily new for us. You are always holding out hope that things will settle for them, but I knew that it was probably going to be a real long shot.
All of that said, he has been in this facility every day that we have been here. He is at every game. He has made most of the road trips with us.
It just speaks to his character. He’s continuing to be a part of it and doing all he can to help the team while not playing and also still pushing himself. You see him in the gym consistently doing everything he can in his control. Unfortunately, his body is just not going to allow him to play this season.
Again, it speaks to his character to stay with it. Our players love having him around and enjoy his personality, his friendship, his leadership, and his perspective on things. It is a different perspective not being in uniform every day, and yet he still has connections to our team. He knows how we play. He knows what the expectations are. He has great bonds with our players.
He is an integral piece of our leadership group, and that won’t change. We will get everything we can out of him that way. He is going to give us everything he has even though he is not going to be in uniform.
He wants to win as badly as anyone. That is one of the intangibles he has brought here to Toronto. To that end, it is nice to see him every day as much as you know it would be very difficult for him to not be in uniform. He is giving us everything that he can.
Muzzin is a unique player on the ice. Why do you think the team has been able to fill the void on the ice?
Keefe: It is very difficult to replace exactly what he does. There are not a lot of defensemen that are as versatile in terms of what they bring — some offensive ability, the competitiveness, the physicality, the penalty killing, and the size. There are not a lot of guys like that.
Like with the other injuries this season, you are not necessarily going to replace the player, but there are other players who can come in and give you good minutes. You need your team game to take care of any of the holes that might be there. That is what we have done all season long.
Through that process, I think we have seen tremendous growth in a lot of our other players — in particular, the young guys when you look at Sandin and Liljegren and how they have grown this season. Timmins, obviously, is a guy that Kyle [Dubas] goes out and makes a trade to bring into our fold. He has given us good minutes. There have been a number of Marlies who have come up.
I think it is the team game that takes care of that and also the individuals. We will just have to have more of that.
Is the expectation that you’re going to get Rasmus Sandin back tomorrow?
Keefe: Yeah, the practice was important for him to get through. We will see how he is through the rest of the day. At this point, it is probably looking like another day or two could really benefit him.
He is not far away. I think he was really close today, but we may take a little more cautious approach with him. We will see.
He is at the point now where he is improving dramatically every day. Strength is not quite where they need it to be, but if that improves significantly and takes a big turn tomorrow, I feel like he could be a possibility. All of that is to say he is very close, one way or the other.
Joey Anderson was at practice today, and he cleared waivers. Is the message that it is strictly a roster situation?
Keefe: Yeah, that is really it. Joey has done a good job while he has been here. Like any player you have on waivers, from the organization’s standpoint, you want them to clear and stay a part of things and have them continue to be an option for you.
The waiver system being what it is gives players like Joey an opportunity to play in the league if there is a team out there that has availability and desires the player. Joey has been a real good player for us, and our organization has worked extremely hard with him. He has given us good minutes.
How important is it to finish on a good note at home tomorrow with the long road trip coming up?
Keefe: It is important for sure. You want to go on the road feeling good. You want to feel good on home ice no matter what the circumstances, but it is a little pit stop for us before we go out on a really difficult trip. It is going to be tough competition, tough travel, and all of those sorts of things when you go out west.
Certainly, there is an important game on the schedule here that we can’t overlook.