After practice on Thursday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed Jake Muzzin’s absence from practice, his first impressions of Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray, and the decision to give Calle Jarnkrok and Adam Gaudette opportunities next to Auston Matthews and John Tavares to start training camp.
Training Camp Line Combinations – Sep. 22
Notable combos at Leafs practice
(Group 2 of 2)
Gaudette – Tavares – Marner
Malgin – Holmberg – Nylander
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Abruzzese
Steeves – Douglas – Ellis
Giordano – Holl
Kral – Dahlstrom
Rifai – Hollowell
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) September 22, 2022
What can you tell us about Jake Muzzin’s injury and how concerned you are about that right now?
Keefe: I wouldn’t say concerned, especially considering it is nothing really that has been on the front burner in terms of monitoring for him. In the last little bit, he had a little discomfort in his back. Ultimately, we just decided that today, for the most part, is one of the hardest days of the year, and it was a good day and a good time to give him some additional time away.
I think we are going to evaluate him after a week or so and see how things settle.
What do you see in Zach Aston-Reese, who is a guy who would normally have signed with a team in the summer had the salary cap not been what it is?
Keefe: It is the nature of what is going on in the league in the last couple of years. There are some guys that you fully expect to have jobs and security, and it is just not the case. The salary cap being what it is might have put up some roadblocks for him. We think it’s worked out to our benefit.
He is a guy that we had an interest in as free agency got going and just ran out of money. To have him still here and still competing in the mix is a good thing for us. He has come in with a very good attitude. He is a very smart and responsible player. He has played in the league a lot. He is coming from a good program with the years he spent in Pittsburgh on good, winning teams.
It’s nice to have another guy like that around.
Is it a disadvantage for him that he doesn’t have a contract, or does that not even factor into your thinking?
Keefe: As far as I am concerned, with what Kyle has told me, everybody who is here is an option for me and for our team.
What kind of first impression did Ilya Samsonov make on you?
Keefe: First of all, he is a very nice guy with a great attitude and a great approach. I think he speaks okay English. He goes out of his way to talk to guys. He is not the loudest guy by any means, but he is certainly around. Any time I have engaged with him, he has been great.
It seems like he is enjoying being here. I was going to use the term “fun,” but I think he has worked extremely hard and I don’t know necessarily how fun it has been for him. He is putting in lots of work, and he is a very motivated guy coming in here.
When it comes to Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray, you want them to be their best selves, but this team is going to score a lot of goals. We saw last year what happens to a team that scores a lot of goals when a couple of bad ones go in. Is that what you are looking for — goalies that can make the saves they are supposed to and a couple that they are not?
Keefe: Yeah, that’s really it. First and foremost, we need to do a good job in front of the goalie no matter who is in net. Let them get comfortable. That was our approach last season, too, whether it was our main guys that had the NHL experience or Joe Woll and Kallgren that came in. You need to do a good job in front of those guys.
That is no different with two new guys coming in here. Certainly, they are guys that we expect to make saves to keep us in games and do a job on the lower-danger chances and things like that. But they both have experience and have played a lot of good hockey in this league.
Matt has more experience and is a little older and all of that, but at the same time, both guys have incredible talent. Today was my first time on the ice with them really seeing them. I thought they looked great. They are real big men in the net who take up a lot of space and move well.
Matt Murray looked really dialed in and focused today. As far as day one of camp goes for a veteran goaltender, he looked pretty dialed in to me. That was good to see.
Murray talked about building trust with his teammates. How much does his championship experience and resume in Pittsburgh help him in that regard?
Keefe: I think it is huge. With any of the players that I spoke to this offseason, that was one of the things they were really excited about. I don’t know how many goalies there are who are playing in the league right now who have won those games and won the Stanley Cup. There are not many. We have one here that has that experience and has the ability.
It hasn’t gone the same way for him in the last few years or so, but we believe the talent is there. We think we can do a good enough job in front of him to really help him out and help him gain some traction to get going. He had a terrific offseason. His time spent in our facility here has been great. He is off to a great start on day one.
Are you just trying to get a look at different things with the line combinations to start camp?
Keefe: That is really what camp is for. We have essentially three weeks here to look at some different things. We are going to get through these first three days here. We have Saturday’s games, and we are going to take Sunday off as a chance to let the guys recover from three tough days. We will come back and have two more practice days. We will likely move some things around when we come back here on Monday and proceed from there.
What is the thinking with putting Calle Jarnkork with Auston Matthews and Adam Gaudette with John Tavares? Do you want to give those guys the best chance right out of the gate?
Keefe: That is a big part of it. They are in two different situations, obviously. Jarnkrok has played a lot of time in the league and is a very good and responsible player, but I thought it was a good chance to put him with Auston and Bunts. I don’t know if there is a better way to come into a new team and feel a part of things. Also, I think he has the skill set to be able to play, whether it is with Auston or John. He has the ability to do that. He can play anywhere in our lineup. He is a very similar player to Kerfoot with his ability to move around.
Gaudette is a guy who we want to give a good opportunity with good players. We think he can really score. He is a worker. He is hard on the puck. We need some guys to come in and pop, if you will, not unlike the way Bunts did last year. We see Gaudette as a candidate who could do that. We are going to give him an opportunity to do so.
Where might Denis Malgin fit in?
Keefe: He is another guy who is in a similar situation to Gaudette. He has played a similar amount of time in the NHL. He went away from the league for a while and did extremely well back home. He is a very talented guy. I thought he looked really good today.
For me, with him, I am really just going to watch. We are going to put him in a good spot as well and he is going to play with good players. Right now, he is with Willy. We are just going to watch him.
He has had success in the league before. It didn’t go well for him in his first go-around with us. He’s gone back home, did really well, has come back here, and he wants to play in the NHL. We will give him a chance to prove he belongs.
What is your sense of what the competition is going to be like for spots at this camp?
Keefe: I think there is great depth. I think there is going to be a great competition. There are guys we are familiar with, whether they are returning guys or guys who were playing for the Marlies, and then we’ve got guys coming in that we signed for the first time. Even with some of the guys that have come in that I am not as familiar with — and spent some time with the Marlies last year but weren’t in our camp and didn’t spend a full season — I think there are a lot of guys who are going to push, challenge for spots, and force us to make decisions, which is a good thing.