Maple Leafs Commentary: Alex Kerfoot, Versatile & Unappreciated

This is our fifth Toronto Maple Leafs’ player review. First, we wrote about Auston Matthews and what we believe makes him the best player in Maple Leafs’ franchise history. Second, we looked at why we believe that Mitch Marner is so underrated. 

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

Third, we looked at Michael Bunting and shared his good fortune, as well as the team’s, to find a place on the first line. Fourth, we looked at William Nylander to suggest why, although he was extremely skilled, he was polarizing to many Maple Leafs’ fans. 

Related: Would Maple Leafs Fans Make Deal with the Devil to Win Stanley Cup?

Yesterday, we looked at John Tavares the team’s second-line center. We suggested that, although he was aging, he was still productive. Today, we look at Alex Kerfoot.

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

As a reminder, if you missed the first four posts, we’re basing these reviews on the film study and note-taking of long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith. When he reviews each game after it’s played, he notes what each player does with the puck, without the puck, where they are, and what they’re doing while not directly involved in the play, etc. 

Maple Leafs Player #6: Alex Kerfoot

Anyone who has watched older Westerns or detective shows knows that the main protagonist always had a trusted sidekick. The sidekick would never overshadow or outshine the main character, and would always support him in whatever he was doing. That’s the role Alex Kerfoot appears to play for the Maple Leafs. 

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

Kerfoot doesn’t do any one thing well enough to say he has any discernable strengths. He also doesn’t make a lot of mistakes or do anything poorly enough to say he has any real weaknesses. He moves up and down the lineup with ease. 

Kerfoot’s Value Is His Versatility

Kerfoot’s value to the team is that he can adequately fill in a left-winger role in the top six, or he can slide down and center the shutdown third line and do that job extremely well. In a pinch, he can even step in for an injury in the top-six, which is what he did quite well when Tavares was concussed during the first Montreal Canadiens’ postseason game in 2021. 

Related: The Best Nicknames in Hockey

Kerfoot might play higher up the lineup on some other teams. He’s good enough at his job. As for the whole sidekick thing, when Kerfoot stepped up in the 2020-21 playoffs when Tavares went down, he was one of the reasons that the second line, along with William Nylander, outshone the first line in those playoffs. 

Alexander Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alexander Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As part of his many hats, not only does Kerfoot slide up and down the lineup with ease, he plays in all situations, even strength, the second powerplay unit, and the penalty kill. 

Kerfoot’s Biggest Strength Is His Intelligence

Kerfoot’s biggest strength is his intelligence as a player. He makes the most of his skill set. While he may not be the most talented player, he makes up for that lack of talent by playing a very smart game. He reminds us of Tyler Bozak when he was with the Maple Leafs. 

Related: Blackhawks Banter Hot Topics: Hagel, Reichel, Shootouts, Injury Report

You won’t see Kerfoot doing end-to-end rushes or blowing by an opposing player. But that doesn’t mean that Kerfoot doesn’t have speed in his game. He does, and it’s seen mostly on defense. On offense, Kerfoot does not have an amazing shot. Nor is he that noticeable as a playmaker.  

What he does well is complement those around him. He’s good at receiving the puck and immediately dishing it off to a rushing teammate; and, then, he gets in a position to do it again. He’s defensively aware and rarely gets caught up-ice. He’s a strong shot blocker and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas of the ice. 

Kerfoot’s Weakness Is His Lack of Physicality

If he has a weakness, we believe it’s his ineffectiveness physically. While he’s not afraid to engage physically, he’s smaller as a player. Because of his lack of size (5-foot-10 and 185 pounds), he’s not always successful at muscling the puck. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev Alexander Kerfoot Morgan Rielly Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev, Alex Kerfoot, Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin celebrate a goal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

Kerfoot will try and go into the corners like Michael Bunting or Zach Hyman before him, but he doesn’t always win those puck battles to the same degree they do. 

Bottom Line: Kerfoot Is the Kind of Player Coaches Love but Few Fans Appreciate

While Kerfoot is the type of player coaches love, he never seems to get the same love outside of his own team or even with fans. As a result, he’s constantly the center of trade rumors. But then fans, even on his own team, seem to wonder what anyone would see in the Harvard-educated Vancouver native.

Related: Maple Leafs Fans Might Not Have Seen the Last of Jason Spezza

This offseason is no different. Many fans and those in the media question whether or not Kerfoot’s value as a player is more important to the team than his $3.5 million salary-cap hit.  

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]