Maple Leafs Commentary: Pierre Engvall, If Only He Were Physical

This is our seventh 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 Mitch Marner is so underrated. 

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

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: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Matthews, Marner, Rielly, the End

Fifth, we looked at John Tavares the team’s aging but still productive second-line center. Yesterday, we looked at Alex Kerfoot and suggested why his coaches appreciated him but others (including fans) might not. Today, we look at Pierre Engvall.

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

As a reminder, if you missed the first 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 #7: Pierre Engvall

Pierre Engvall is a rare commodity on the Maple Leafs. He’s a late-round pick (7th round, 188th overall in the 2014 draft) who has come up through the Maple Leafs’ system. Not only has Engvall made the big team, but he’s still with them. Engvall has spent his entire professional career in the Maple Leafs’ organization.

Engvall’s Size is Deceiving

One thing we have to get out of the way right off the bat is Engvall’s size. He’s listed as 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. But, Engvall has a bit of a strange build. He has a longer-than-usual neck and a taller-than-normal head. His nickname with the Maple Leafs (all the players have nicknames) is Seabiscuit, after the legendary racehorse. Another nickname he’s had in the past is “The Giraffe.”  

Related: The Best Nicknames in Hockey

As a result of his build, while Engvall is big, he’s not your typical 6-foot-5 player.  If you put him shoulder-to-shoulder with someone 6-foot-2, they would likely be close to the same height up to the shoulders. So, while Engvall is a big player, he’s not really 6-foot-5 big. 

Engvall’s Biggest Strength Is His Defense

After being drafted by the Maple Leafs eight years ago, Engvall has developed slowly. At the age of 26, an age where most players have peaked, Engvall still seems to be continuing his slow development.

Engvall’s biggest strength is his defensive play without the puck. With this being a study of the eye test, we don’t want to get into statistics. However, in the three seasons, Engvall has been with the big club, he has been at, or near, the top of all of the defensive analytic categories. 

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

The eye test matches those numbers. He rarely gets caught out of position. If he does get a step behind, Engvall has the foot speed to get back into the play. He skates using an awkward upright body position, but he still has the speed to close quickly on opposing puck carriers. He’s also a bit of a fitness fanatic, so he doesn’t tire easily.

Related: Minnesota Gophers’ Josefin Bouveng Headlines NCAA Rookies

Head coach Sheldon Keefe must recognize Engvall’s defensive strengths as he has him start the vast majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. He was an important part of the shutdown third line last season. 

Engvall Has Not Used His Size to Establish a Physical Game

The one thing the NHL version of Engvall has not been is physical. That’s strange. With the AHL Toronto Marlies he not only played a physical game, but he also played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. We saw a number of plays where he laid a hit on a player and then stood there as if inviting the player to do something about it. They rarely did.  

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

We haven’t seen that part of his game in the NHL. He was somewhat more physical in the playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. He totalled 17 hits in the seven games. It would be nice to see him carry that over to the 2022-23 regular season.

Engvall Needs to Pick Up His Offense

As for his offense, carrying the puck, passing the puck, and playmaking, in general, are not his strengths. He can move through open ice well enough with the puck, but he appears to have a low panic threshold. When he’s pressured with a heavy forecheck, he can make some questionable plays and decisions. 

Related: Maple Leafs Re-Signing Giordano Sends Messages to Team & League

Engvall does have a decent shot. If he gets open and can get the puck in a shooting position, he has a pretty good chance of scoring with it. The numbers back that up. He scored 15 goals last season, and he’s had a 10.5% shooting rate in his three seasons with the Maple Leafs. In an interview about a month ago, he noted that he wanted to score 20 goals this season.

Bottom Line for Engvall: Third Line Winger, or Perhaps Moving Up?

We fully expect Engvall to be once again be part of the shutdown third line this coming season. However, it would not surprise us to see him get a shot on the second line alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.

If Engvall can engage the physical play he showed so often with the Marlies, he could become a huge asset on that second line. However, the key is rediscovering the physicality he showed in the AHL and in last season’s playoffs.

[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.]