Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

Ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Oilers, Sheldon Keefe discussed Tyler Bertuzzi’s recent stretch of play, Matthew Knies moving down the lineup, and Joe Woll joining the team on the road trip out west.

Morning Skate Lines – January 16

How would you assess Tyler Bertuzzi’s game lately?

Keefe: I would say inconsistent. For me, it has taken a while to get going in each game that we have played of late. When the game gets going, he is in it and he is competitive. At times, the game gets away from him a little bit early.

To me, Bert has played good hockey for us for a good stretch of time now. It seems that the harder, more competitive, and more important the game is, the better we get from him. I thought the game against Colorado was a bit of an exception there, but he has played very well for us.

He is an important guy.

Is there something you are looking to see from Matthew Knies as he moves up and down the lineup?

Keefe: Not necessarily. We are seeing a young player who is adjusting to the league. He has been playing a lot with Matthews on the top line, which comes with top matchups and top D pairings. It is challenging.

We have talked about this throughout the season. I don’t know where exactly he is at, but at the midway point for us, he has probably already played as many or more games than he has in a college season.

There are a lot of things that are happening for a young guy. Sometimes, taking a step back can help him. He was sick at one time not too long ago. He came back from that and was ready to play, but I just felt that giving him an extra day could help him. After missing just one extra game from being sick, he was shot out of a cannon when we played Pittsburgh after that.

It just shows that at times for a young guy, if you take a step backward, it can help him manage everything that comes with being a first-year NHL player and first-year pro.

They practice all of the time in college and play on the weekends. You hardly practice in the NHL. Is that difficult for a player coming from college?

Keefe: I think so for sure. For European players, maybe not as much, but it is similar. For American league players, in some cases, they play a lot of games, but you are playing on weekends with lots of practice time to refine your game and a lot of time to adjust your game and work at something you might be struggling with.

In the NHL, the pace of it doesn’t allow for much of that. You have to be mentally tough. You have to adjust through video. You have to manage and take care of your body. These are all things that players have to go through.

Most of them go through that in the American league, but a player of Knies’ ability warrants him to be in the NHL. It doesn’t mean he is not still a young, developing guy.

Are you surprised that Zach Hyman is capable of scoring 26 goals in less than half a season?

Keefe: He has always had a good touch around the net. He knows how to get to the right spots. He is playing with the right guy to get him the puck right where he needs it. In that sense, I am not surprised.

He is a relentless player. When he gets confident and all of that, he is going to be dangerous.

What can your top players learn from the Colorado loss heading into a matchup against another team with elite-of-the-elite offensive players?

Keefe: Just how aware you need to be when it is time to defend and check but also how much harder the puck is to come by and how much you need to value it when you do get a chance to get it. That is really it.

Coming off of that Colorado game, it helps us with the preparation. They are different teams, but there are certainly similarities there in terms of the effectiveness on special teams and then the elite-calibre players.

They have a lot of confidence. They have put together a nice couple of months. We are going to have to be at our best. In these situations in the past, we have been. I am looking forward to competing tonight.

What does it mean to have Joe Woll on the trip?

Keefe: It just means he is one step further. He is not going to play on this trip. I don’t even expect to see him in practice on this trip. He is just here to continue to work with Curtis (Sanford) and be around the guys.