Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach

After Sunday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed Joseph Woll’s first start of the season vs. Chicago on Monday, Max Domi’s start to the season, and the defensive play of Fraser Minten and Matthew Knies in the first two games.

Practice Lines – Oct. 15

What sort of impression has Connor Bedard made on you in his short time in the league?

Keefe: The biggest thing I would say is that I didn’t know his game that well before he came into the league. A lot of the hype — which is well deserved — is focused on his shot and his ability to score, but I would say his game is far more dynamic and complete offensively than I had thought just through my impressions. You think of him as a shooter, but he makes a lot of plays. He drives offense. He has been doing that here in the early going despite being inexperienced in his first time through the league.

Clearly, there is a lot there to be focused on and concerned about going into the game, but if our team game defensively continues to improve as we need it to do, we think it will take care of a lot of that kind of stuff. But it will certainly be challenged.

What have you liked about Joseph Woll’s camp and practices so far?

Keefe: He has been consistent. He has stayed healthy. He was sick and missed his start in preseason, which you worry about with a young guy. Any time they miss, how does it affect them? That is part of it.

It is sort of what he did last year as well. He missed training camp and preseason. He got off to a great start in the American league and never looked back.

He looks good. He looks way more comfortable. He knows he belongs here now. I think he earned that through his play last season. He has given us no reason to doubt that through his performance in camp and preseason.

Have you liked the defensive efforts of Fraser Minten and Matthew Knies so far?

Keefe: I have a lot, actually. That is the one thing that has been consistent for them in both games. They defended really well. Defensively, they were our best line yesterday by far. They gave up the least of any line.

Those are your two youngest guys. Obviously, Jarnkrok contributes significantly to that group that way, but we felt strongly enough about their game that we could move Jarny away and they would still be good.

I liked them again in the third period. I could see — with Max’s addition — that they had a little more happening offensively.

The biggest thing with Minten is that I saw progress in his overall game against a big, strong, and physical team. That was good to see. In practice today, he took another step again. He seemed to be shooting the puck in the net and having all sorts of confidence with his game today. Those are really positive things that you see him continue to build.

Have you picked Fraser’s brain about Bedard? They are pretty close as friends.

Keefe: There is no lack of coverage for us to get some information there.

With Joseph Woll starting on Monday, Ilya Samsonov will have a bit of a break before his next start to work with Curtis Sanford. What are you sensing from him to start the season?

Keefe: It just looks like it’s early and he hasn’t found his groove yet. At the same time, as we have talked about lots of the years, no matter who is in goal, there is a responsibility for our team defense to take care of our goalies. We haven’t done nearly a good enough job in that area.

Let’s focus on that as a team and take care no matter who is in our net. There should be a level of structure and security around the goaltenders that allows them to find that groove and their confidence. Everything else falls into place from there. That is where my focus is on — improving our team defense.

What has the message to Max Domi been in terms of his defensive play?

Keefe: Finding the nuances of our system and recognizing that. My focus with Max when meeting with him today was just on how he manages the puck offensively. If you don’t take care of the puck offensively, you have to defend that much more. That is really it.

We want to do a better job when we lose the puck, but in Max’s case, I think it’s about keeping himself and his group on offense more often. That is really it — recognizing that taking care of the puck leads to a lot of good things happening offensively, and you defend way less.

That is really the message for Max.

Guy Boucher’s first game in Ottawa was Auston Matthews’ four-goal game as a debuting rookie. Has that come up in the last couple of days?

Keefe: It was mentioned. Guy reminded us that he won that game.