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

After Tuesday’s training camp sessions, Sheldon Keefe discussed the Knies – Tavares – Lafferty line, Easton Cowan making a push for more opportunities, and the latest on his injured players.

Line Combinations – Sep. 26

Sep. 27 Roster vs. Buffalo

What made you put together the combination of John Tavares, Matthew Knies, and Sam Lafferty?

Keefe: I think that we have guys there that can complement each other. I like Lafferty’s straight-line speed and ability to get through the neutral zone clean and into the offensive zone. That is where John does his best — and Knies, for that matter.  It’s also having two guys with John that will skate just as hard coming back to our zone, be good defensively, play against good players, and not have to have any concern or drop-off.

I like the ability — we talk about William at center — to have three good options there, and then David Kampf is on line four. He is as trustworthy of a guy as we have. It’s a good mix with the way it all comes together.

What does Easton Cowan get out of practicing with NHL players in that group?

Keefe: There are a couple of things. This entire camp has been a great experience. It is his first camp. He gets a feel for NHL habits, details, and the structure of how we want our guys to play. There is that piece of it.

A guy like him comes in, and you are thinking all about the experience. It seems like every day he is out there, you come away thinking he is one of the best players on the ice. Just keep stacking together good days and see what happens. Enjoy the time here.

He is going to play again tomorrow night. I am really excited about him. He has been great to have. He comes every day with a smile and good energy, and yet when the puck drops or he is in a drill, he is serious and competitive. Those are all of the things you like to see in any player regardless of their age.

In last night’s game, he didn’t score on his penalty shot, but he forgot about it right away. He got better and better throughout the game.

Keefe: It is a great point. The penalty shot didn’t seem to faze him. He didn’t get nervous. He just went out and did his thing. He got better through the game even. He had the confidence to make plays and the confidence to stick his nose in. It was a really good game for him.

It was not just him. When he played in Ottawa, Minten also had a strong game. Those are two guys who are really good examples. They come in, and you talk about them just being here for the experience. They come in, they start both games on the fourth line, and I am not giving them a whole lot of ice time early. They are just doing their best with everything that they get. You just keep noticing them.

As I talked about last night, you end up talking yourself into playing them more. Maybe it was going to be a short stay here, but now they are hanging around. They are getting more experience. That is what you want to see: guys taking what you give them and doing the best that they can with it.

We saw John Tavares play on the wing down the stretch last season. Right now, it looks like he might mostly be at center and maybe not playing with William Nylander or Mitch Marner as consistently as in the past. How would you assess his ability to stay ahead of the age curve and maximize his abilities within that?

Keefe: John is all about the team. He wants to see the team do well. When we present him with a scenario we were building, he is all for it and all about it.

We will continue to evaluate John’s situation, John’s line, and the other lines. That is a daily discussion that we will have. We are not going to be emotional about anything. We are going to give this some time to breathe throughout the preseason and perhaps beyond that. We will continue to look at it.

John is all in on whatever we believe is going to help the team. He is going to do whatever he can to make it work, whether that is center or wing and no matter who his linemates are. At this point in his career more than any other, John is all about winning. The more guys you can have like that, the better. We have lots of them here.

Bobby McMann and Simon Benoit are back after starting late with an injury. What do they have to do to catch up, and what are you expecting the rest of the way?

Keefe: They are playing a little catchup for sure. They both have been skating but not with the group. They have been in the meetings but not on the ice getting the reps. Of course, they are already behind a little bit in preseason.

They have some catching up to do for sure, but both guys have some experience — Benoit, obviously, more than McMann, but McMann has been here and has played for me with our guys. They have some advantages that way.

It is just nice to see them on the ice and see them take a step here. There are six preseason games left. They are going to come quickly, but there is runway and opportunity for those guys to get going.

Both guys looked really good today. They are two bigger guys stepping on the ice today. Benoit had the big, bright red jersey. At first, it was surprising to see. He’s big, strong, physical, and you haven’t seen him before.

Bobby is a big guy who can move and get up and down the ice really quickly. Two good additions to the camp.

Is there any concern with Calle Jarnkrok’s status?

Keefe: Just day-to-day with him. Something came up in practice a few days ago. It hasn’t quite settled yet. It is nothing we are too concerned about. When I spoke to him today, he thought he might get back on skates tomorrow and start working his way back toward playing.

It is just day-to-day at this point.