Maple Leafs’ Engvall No Longer in Keefe’s Good Graces

Pierre Engvall appears to be at a crossroads with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After playing 90 games over the past two seasons for the Maple Leafs, to mixed reviews, it appears his position on the roster might be precarious at best.  

What Does the Maple Leafs’ Internal Competition Look Like?

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the Maple Leafs have added five forwards in an effort to create competition for certain roster spots. These forwards include Nick Ritchie, David Kampf, Ondrej Kase, Micheal Bunting, and Kurtis Gabriel. They will be competing with five incumbents Ilya Mikheyev, Nick Robertson, Joey Anderson, Adam Brooks, and Engvall for roster spots.   

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

It isn’t tough to see that some lockers on the team’s corps of forwards already have names stencilled on them for 2021-22. Obviously, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Alex Kerfoot, Wayne Simmonds, and Jason Spezza are assured of occupying seven of the 13 forward positions. That leaves the ten players we noted above fighting for six positions on the team’s four lines and including the 13th forward spot. 

Related: Maple Leafs in a Tough Spot with Defenseman Morgan Rielly

With the Maple Leafs committing $5 million over two seasons to Ritchie and $3 million over the same two seasons to Kampf, we think it’s safe to assume both those players will be counted on to join the on-the-team group. If so, that leaves the other players vying for the four remaining jobs. 

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Looking at the incumbents, we find it hard to believe Mikeheyev won’t make the roster, paring the group down to the other players battling for three roster positions. The question here is: Where does Engvall fit in that group?

Engvall’s History with the Organization

After starting the 2019-2020 season by scoring seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in 15 games for the AHL Toronto Marlies, Engall was called up to the Maple Leafs by Sheldon Keefe when he became the team’s new head coach. Engvall showed that the tap on the shoulder Keefe gave him was justified; and, the season started well when he scored seven goals and seven assists (for 14 points) in 27 games. Extended over an 82-game season, that’s a 21-goal and 43-point pace. 

To reward his good play, Engvall was given a two-year $2.5 million deal by the Maple Leafs. It looked like he had found a long-term home.  

But a funny thing happened. Engvall’s offense almost completely dried up.  He finished the season with a grand total of one goal and no assists over his last 21 games. After an unimpressive showing at training camp for the 2020-21 season, Engvall found himself on the outside looking in. He became a member of the Maple Leafs’ taxi squad. 

Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported after that training camp that, although Engvall had won a Calder Cup with Keefe in 2018, played most of the Maple Leafs’ games as an NHL rookie, and earned a two-year, $2.5-million contract extension, he was still among those who was headed back to the Marlies after a round of roster cuts. 

Coach Keefe clearly noted Engvall’s position with his coach: “I expect Pierre to be better, to be honest.” 

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Then Keefe pointed to the issue by noting, “I think it might be coming up on, if not past, the one-year anniversary of his last goal.”

Keefe added that he wanted a stronger physical commitment from Engvall, which during last season Engvall obviously worked on. Specifically, during the 2019-20 season, Engvall was credited with 29 hits in 48 games. During the 2020-21 season, he was more physical and totalled 43 hits in 42 games.    

Engvall Started the 2020-21 Season Slowly

Engvall started last season slowly and sat out the season’s first five games before he made his way back into the lineup. He was a healthy scratch and watched from the press box for nine games as the season progressed. 

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Fortunately, Engvall hit a hot streak and scored four goals during the final five games of the regular season. However, he once again found himself in the press box for Game 1 of the playoffs. He returned for the last six games against the Montreal Canadiens, and had a lone assist in Game 6.  

Where Does That Put Engvall This Season?

As the 2021-22 regular-season training camp begins, Engvall finds himself in a position where once again must fight for a roster spot. As we mentioned before, for whatever reason, Engvall seems to get his fair share of criticism from Keefe. Perhaps it’s a case of tough love, or perhaps there’s something about Engvall’s game Keefe isn’t happy with. 

Whatever the reason, Engvall seems to have fallen from his head coaches’ grace. And, for an NHL hockey player, that isn’t a happy place to live.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Coming out of a subpar 2020-21 season, Engvall probably needs to jack up his game. He doesn’t provide a lot of offense and finished last season with seven goals and five assists (for 12 points) in 42 games. That’s only a 14-goal and 23-point pace over 82 games. However, he’s tasked with a lot of defensive responsibilities, demonstrated by his 61.3% defensive zone starts. And he’s good in that area of his game.

The Bottom Line for Engvall

For Engvall to make the team’s opening game roster, he needs to come to camp ready; and, that means he must be mentally prepared, physically in shape (which he can never be faulted on), and motivated. 

Related: Maple Leafs Three Most Surprising Players for 2020-21 Season

Will that place him on the opening game roster? We don’t know. It will be an interesting training camp. Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas set out to create some competition for the forward spots, which he’s done. It will be fun to see who makes it onto the roster.  

[Note: Again 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.]

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