3 Maple Leafs Looking to Bounce Back in 2023

We’re nearing the end of the calendar year, and as weird as it feels to say, there aren’t really many players on the Toronto Maple Leafs that I have a bone to pick with. I wrote this exact article around this time last year, and my bounceback candidates included Nick Ritchie, who had only one goal at the time I wrote it, Petr Mrazek, who battled injuries all throughout the first half of the season and never really found his game in between, and Ilya Mikheyev, who had only played one game due to injury before the league-wide COVID-19 pause. All had reasonable grounds to consider them bounce-back candidates. 

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This season, despite an underwhelming month of October, it’s been a bit of a different story. All of the star players are performing to their standards, the team’s defense has been a strong point despite multiple bouts with the injury bug, and the goaltending tandem has been stellar for the most part. Having said that, not everybody on the team had an admirable start to the season, so today, we’re going to look at these players and talk about who should be aiming at a rebound in the new year. 

Alex Kerfoot 

Sometimes, players have some extra expectations brought on them because of who they were acquired for. Alex Kerfoot is a victim of this, being the forward that came back from the Colorado Avalanche in the Nazem Kadri trade, but he’s generally been pretty consistent. In fact, his performance in 2021-22 softened the blow a little bit, notching a career-high 51 points in 82 games. However, it hasn’t been the same story for him in 2022-23. He didn’t score his first even-strength goal until the 27th game of the season, and had only ten points up until that point.

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To Kerfoot’s credit, he picked it up in the month of December, with six points through ten games, and while he struggled to find a rhythm in the top six, he seems to have found a comfortable spot alongside Pierre Engvall and David Kampf on the third line. To go from one of, if not the team’s top secondary scorer in 2021-22, to providing next to nothing of value at 5-on-5 is a drop off that I’d imagine Kerfoot himself isn’t thrilled with, so it’s no secret that he should have his sights set on an improved 2023. 

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Granted, if the Maple Leafs swing a big trade for a top six forward at any point, he might be on his way out due to his cap hit alone. But as long as he’s in a Maple Leafs uniform, all fans should be rooting for a bounceback from Kerfoot in the new year. 

Pierre Engvall 

With the departure of Mikheyev in free agency, a spot opened up on the second line next to John Tavares. He never really had that job locked down at any point, but with him out of the picture, it lessened the competition for that role. And one candidate to take that job that I had high hopes for was Pierre Engvall. He’s always been used in a defensive-heavy role in the NHL, but he had a bit of a breakout offensively in 2021-22 with 15 goals and 35 points in 78 games. With another season under his belt, who’s to say he wouldn’t be able to hit 20 goals the following year? He even suggested it himself. 

Like Kerfoot, Engvall’s had a slow start to the season. He didn’t register his first point until the eighth game of the season, and only had six points in 24 games through the first two months. But, also like Kerfoot, he rebounded in the month of December, with six points in nine games played, and he’s also settled into that third line role along with Kampf. 

To be honest, I have a hard time seeing the Maple Leafs trading him, since he does pretty much exactly what Kerfoot does for a cheaper salary, so it would be ideal for the team if he continued to do what he’s done in the month of December and give them some security on that third line. He’ll have to go on quite the tear to hit his initial goal of 20 goals, but even if he doesn’t, I’m sure that his team would be happy if he simply repeated his production from last season.

Calle Jarnkrok 

Let me clarify off the top that I actually have a hard time putting Calle Jarnkrok in the same category as Kerfoot and Engvall. The reason being that even though he experienced some similar offensive struggles to the other two, he always found a way to make his presence known on the ice. He’s a relentless forechecker, and getting what he’s capable of giving at his best for the price of $2.1 million annually is some great value for the Maple Leafs. 

Calle Jarnkrok Toronto Maple Leafs
Calle Jarnkrok, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But even though I didn’t have as much of a gripe with Jarnkrok as I did with the other two, it’s still fair to say that his start to the season was less than ideal. He had only one point through the first ten games and only ten points through the first two months, and while he’s not expected to light the lamp whenever he skates out onto the ice, those numbers are still below his standards. 

He also suffered an injury that he had apparently been dealing with throughout the season, and since his return to the lineup, he’s notched five points in three games. That pace certainly isn’t sustainable, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him go on a little bit of a run, especially now that he’s seemingly found a home alongside Tavares and Mitch Marner. 

Other Bounceback Candidates Didn’t Last With the Team 

Had Nicolas Aube-Kubel played more than six games with the Maple Leafs, or Denis Malgin not been traded to the Colorado Avalanche a little over a week ago, both players would have been bounceback candidates for me. But, the Maple Leafs realized the lack of a fit before I had the chance to write about it, so I was left with these three players instead. 

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This is one of those articles where I’d love to hear your take on anybody you feel would have been worthy of making my list. While Jarnkrok is here for the next four years, the futures of Engvall and Kerfoot are still somewhat up in the air, so this entire discussion could be moot in the span of a few months. But, it’s fresh for now, and trade or no trade, all three players will certainly be looking to improve in the new year.

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