After day one of on-ice training camp sessions, Sheldon Keefe discussed the first configuration of his line combinations and the skating tests to open camp.
Maple Leafs NHL Roster Lines – Sep. 21
Bertuzzi – Matthews – Marner
Domi – Nylander – Jarnkrok
Knies – Tavares – Lafferty
Gregor (PTO) – Kampf – Reaves
Robertson – Holmberg – Abruzzese
Rielly – Brodie
McCabe – Klingberg
Giordano – Liljegren
Lagesson – Timmins
What made you decide to start William Nylander with Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok?
Keefe: I just looked at the mix of the guys there. With Domi and Jarnkrok there, you have two guys who have played center and can take on some responsibilities low in the zone if that is the case — if need be — to support. Domi is good on faceoffs and can take left-handed faceoffs. There is a good fit there.
I think Domi and Willy are both really dynamic on the rush. Jarnkrok does a good job of getting to the net, getting available, and getting open. Jarny is a worker. He is going to work and do a lot of work defensively for the group. The elements made sense to me that way.
You see the players you have to work with to build the lines. I thought it made sense to start that way.
You have said the lines aren’t carved in stone, but what did you think of Tyler Bertuzzi on the top line?
Keefe: I am not going to take too much out of what is happening today, especially for a new guy. There is a lot happening and we are moving really fast out there. It is less about the details of what we are doing, more about the pace, and laying a foundation for how we want to play.
I am not worried about him fitting in there. He has a great skill set. When the games start, I think you will see a lot of that. He is a gamer. His hockey sense is good. His skill set fits well with those guys.
Just like we talked about with the Nylander line, that group has great elements, too.
What do you hope the new additions bring to the room, with the past talk about it being a little quiet in there?
Keefe: Especially if you focus on the forwards with Domi, Bert, and Reavo, those three guys are competitors first and foremost. It is not about making noise in the room, certainly. It is not about that at all. For me, I think we have guys that no matter what the game brings or calls for, they’re comfortable.
In fact, sometimes they are going to raise the temperature of the game themselves. They’re comfortable playing in that environment. If you look at Bertuzzi and Domi, they are two guys who play their best when the games are most competitive. They have a great skill set to be able to score. Reavo has done his job as good or better than anybody in the league for a number of years now.
Between those three guys — and when you have them on three different lines — it is a good mix for us. Matthew Knies is bringing a lot to the Tavares group. There are some different elements there that we maybe haven’t had in the past.
When you think about the mindset of a William Nylander, is it the perfect one for going into a contract year?
Keefe: I think so. He is extremely confident in himself and very focused. I would never describe Willy as distracted by anything. He is going about his business, and that is exactly what I have seen since he came into town, since camp started yesterday, and on the first day on the ice today.
I thought he was terrific in our skate to start with and really pushed things and led the way. I am not concerned about Willy’s ability to focus on what we need to do on the ice. I think he has shown that very well to start.
Have you seen an evolution in where Ilya Samsonov stands at this time compared to the same time last year?
Keefe: I didn’t see much on the ice today of the goalies. There is so much happening out there so quickly. But in terms of his preparation coming into the camp, I know that those who have spent the most time with him — our strength coaches, our medical team, and the performance team — feel he is in terrific shape.
He is far ahead of where he was at this time last year. I think he learned a lot last year about what it is like to be a pro and to be an everyday goaltender and be relied upon. He has come in far more prepared for the season to come and should be super confident with the type of season he had last year.
Jake Muzzin was hanging out at the rink. Do you expect him to be around the team a lot this year?
Keefe: I don’t know if I would describe it as a lot, but he will be around just like last year. He wants this team to do well. He has a lot of great friends. He feels a part of this.
I know and we can all imagine how difficult it would be to not be able to be out there competing. From what he told me, he didn’t necessarily miss the skate that we started with today. You know he wants to be out there and he is terrific to have around. He has a great personality and great experience. The guys really like and trust him.
It is good to see him back here.
How did you think the group handled the skating test today?
Keefe: I thought they did great. It is not easy. It is built to be miserable. It is miserable. We like to lead with the hard things. Playing in the NHL and winning in the NHL is not an easy thing to do as we know very well. We lead with the hard things.
Each year that we have done it, I have been impressed with how the guys have gotten through it. They come in, regroup, have a meeting, we get set for practice, and we go out. You’re still really happy with the energy, the effort level, and the pace that follows such a grueling and miserable experience.
We are really happy with it. We have a lot of new guys in today who are going through it for the first time. You are watching to see how they handle that. To a man, I was happy with it. It is a mental test more than anything. I thought the guys did really well with it.
Is there anything you learned or that you take away from today?
Keefe: I wouldn’t say that. As I was saying earlier, you are always looking to see how the group responds to how we start the day with the skate. We lead with that first.
You are looking to see how the group responds. The energy of the group was good. They picked up some of the little nuances of the things we wanted to do and some of the things we have adjusted from last season, whether it is new things picking up the whole new system or the guys coming back with some adjustments. I thought we picked that up quickly. It is day one. You lay the foundation.
The thing that I really liked that stood out to me was the play of our young guys — in particular with Knies, Robertson, Minten, and Cowan. Those forwards have a lot of good stuff going on.
How did TJ Brodie avoid the skate?
Keefe: Brods is going through a tough time here in the last couple of weeks. We are giving him some time with the loss of his father. It disrupted his training. He hasn’t skated as much as the other guys. We are sort of easing him back into it. We didn’t want to expose him to that skate on day one.