Things could be looking better for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they’ve had their ups and downs to start the 2022-23 season.
After getting called out in the season opener against the Montreal Canadiens and a lifeless effort versus the Arizona Coyotes, the Maple Leafs still haven’t played to their fullest potential. There are multiple reasons for the team’s slow start, from poor defense to the depth scoring being inconsistent. However, two players that are supposed to be making contributions really haven’t done a whole lot.
Once again, Justin Holl has continued to make costly errors that end up hurting his team and Pierre Engvall has not proved a whole lot after signing a one-year $2.5 million contract. While the trade route always remains an option to replace two struggling players that are supposed to be big contributors for this team, there are players waiting in the wings that could possibly take over.
Holl’s Errors Continue
Needless to say, Holl continues to makes careless plays with the puck as a top-four defender on this team. It seems like in every game, he makes a play that leaves you wondering what he’s doing?
Aside from a stretch of two games where he did play well against the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals, Holl continues to make plays that end up costing his team. Earlier in the week against the Vegas Golden Knights, he didn’t handle pressure well and continued to make poor decisions and clearing attempts. That play continued against the San Jose Sharks as he continued to the same mistakes we’ve seen.
It’s clear that Holl needs to be better, especially now that his defense partner Jake Muzzin is on LTIR. It could force management to make a move to bring in a more consistent and reliable defender now that Muzzin might be out for an extended period of time. Seeing as Holl is a right hand shot, his spot might be on the line as Timothy Liljegren might be back in the near future as he started a stint with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League. Based on his season debut, Liljegren is aiming to take his spot.
With Liljegren taking big steps in his development, it’s possible that he can over take Holl’s spot in the lineup and bump him to the third pairing or even out of the lineup. He’s proven to provide more of an effective two-way game and provide more of a steady presence within his own end.
With Holl’s play to start the season, it might be time for some change.
Engvall Needs to Show More Consistency
After posting career bests in goals (15), assists (20) and points (35), Engvall was hoping to continue the offensive production from last season. So far, he has been extremely quiet as he’s been invisible in the six games that he’s played.
He hasn’t registered any points, has only 10 shots on goal and his underlying numbers at five-on-five aren’t that great either as he’s been on for three goals against and has a scoring chances for percentage of 45.07. Not ideal for a player that wanted to prove that he can be a valuable asset as a potential top-six forward option.
So far, Engvall hasn’t been as engaging on the attack this season compared to last season. You could point to his ankle injury being a factor for his play as he was a healthy scratch and has been “hesitant” according to head coach Sheldon Keefe. In the games that he has played, he’s too passive and not nearly as aggressive as he should given his stature.
We’ve seen the speed that Engvall possesses, as he’s been known to beat out defenders and become a threat in all situations. We’ve seen him become aggressive and tough to play against as he can establish a forecheck, given his size and ability to separate the puck. That willingness and drive has been missing from him. Given that he’s 6-foot-5, 216 pounds, he shied away from the physical play quite often this season. He was better against the Sharks, but still made some questionable decisions with the puck.
There shouldn’t be the expectation that he needs to make a bone-crushing hit every time he’s on the ice, but he needs to utilize his size and play the body more. Engvall has 10 hits for the season, but compared to Auston Matthews or even defenseman Rasmus Sandin, they have 21.
Keefe has previously called out Engvall in the past as he expects better from him. That was back in 2021 and now the Maple Leafs need more consistency and better play from him.
Who Could Possibly Step up?
While you can always look to make a trade and find suitable replacements, the Maple Leafs do have some internal options that they can look to for more consistent play.
Victor Mete was signed to strengthen their defensive depth and with Matt Murray’s injury, Mete was called up. While he would be mostly used in a third pairing role, if he’s able to provide more consistency over Holl, he could see more minutes as he can provide some more upside and push Holl out of the lineup.
Mete has much better speed and control in transition to carry a play or make quick outlet passes. He’s shown more awareness to join the rush but is able to quickly get back and help on the back check when he does. While he’s only played in three games this season, Mete shown slightly numbers and chances than Holl when he’s on the ice.
Mete may not put up points, even with third pairing minutes, but he can drive the play and provide good defense. He’s getting his opportunity and he’s looking pretty sharp with his play, with and without the puck.
As for Engvall, if the Maple Leafs need another bottom-six forward that can play with pace and speed, Alex Steeves should be first on the list of call-ups. Ever since he signed his three-year entry-level contract, Steeves has been a name to keep on eye in the Maple Leafs prospects system.
After a strong rookie season where he finished with 46 points in 58 games, Steeves is once again jumping out of the gate this season as he has four goals and six points in five games with the Marlies. He was a standout for the Maple Leafs during the rookie tournament and had a strong camp as well.
While Engvall has shown to play with pace in the past, Steeves has been consistent in that department as his motor never stops running. He’s got the speed to hunt and chase down pucks while also displaying a strong work ethic every time he’s on the ice. At 6-feet, 190 pounds, he doesn’t shy away from any battle or physical situation as he’s shown to get in the face of the opponent.
If the Maple Leafs need a jolt to their bottom-six, Steeves should definitely be on their radar as a player to possibly replace Engvall if his lack luster play continues.
While the Maple Leafs can look to the trade market to bring in some help for the struggling Holl and Engvall, they do have options internally as Mete has already shown some upside and Steeves can provide some consistency with his energy and play as a young and determined player.
Players are looking to prove their worth and provide an impact. If given the opportunity, they can potentially steal a spot from veteran players.
Statistics from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.