Maple Leafs Making Room for Pierre Engvall?

Pierre Engvall is making his presence felt on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. In the 6-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 6, he skated a season-high 16:11 and scored a goal and an assist. He now has 12 points in 22 NHL games.

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When he first arrived from the Toronto Marlies, he moved between the Maple Leafs lineup and the press box. However, it’s a fair guess he won’t be spending much more time in the press box. In fact, it’s also a fair guess he won’t be wearing a Marlies uniform any time soon.

Engvall’s Come A Long Way in Two Seasons

It’s interesting to see how far Engvall has come in less than two years. In May 2018, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote a nice article about Engvall. He was drafted in the seventh-round (188th overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Similar to his injured Swedish teammate Andreas Johnsson, who also was chosen in the seventh round (202nd overall), Engvall stayed in Sweden to hone his skills on the bigger ice.

Andreas Johnsson Toronto Maple Leafs
Andreas Johnsson, Toronto Maple Leafs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 2017, Engvall was entering his fourth season as an unsigned prospect. Maple Leafs management hadn’t yet made up their mind about him. In fact, his bad luck with injuries – his clavicle was fractured when he was checked illegally in a game – left him with doubts about making the NHL. The resulting surgery clouded his future.

However, he had scored 20 points in 31 SHL games, which encouraged the Marlies to offer him a PTO in March 2018. Still, when he stepped off the flight from Sweden, he wasn’t certain he’d be staying. Looking back, he admitted, “I didn’t expect too much. I knew I had to work for the contract. I knew if I did my best, I would get it.”

Happy about signing with the Marlies, he added, “That’s what I’ve been trying to work towards for the last four years … I got a good start when I came here, I got to play with good players (with the Marlies), and it worked out for me.”

Engvall’s Start with the Marlies

In retrospect, it probably didn’t hurt that Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe was his coach when he joined the Marlies. Keefe was impressed by what he saw, noting Engvall’s imposing 6-foot-4 and 200-pound frame and his soft hands. However, it was his willingness to be coached that left the biggest impression on his coach.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Pierre Engvall (Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

Engvall was a hard worker both on and off the ice. As Fox’s article noted, he “dove into film sessions and drills, then rapidly converted the staff’s suggestions into in-game results.”

Keefe agreed, noting that Engvall learned to use his body in the tighter spaces and picked up the small aspects of the North American game. Again, being coachable pushed the learning curve and, according to Keefe, “He’s just picking things up here every single day. He’s been a real nice surprise, a real nice addition for us, and a great prospect to have in the fold here.”

Engvall’s Success at the NHL Level

When Engvall first got to the Marlies, Keefe admitted that he had no idea what to expect. However, Keefe had to know what Engvall could deliver when both player and the coach joined the big club within one game of each other. He knew Engvall was a solid two-way player and played him immediately.

When Engvall (Nov. 18) was called up just two days before his coach (Keefe was named coach on Nov. 20), I wondered if general manager Kyle Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan already knew that Mike Babcock would be fired. It didn’t seem like a coincidence that Engvall’s promotion corresponded with Keefe’s. Obviously, I can’t know what transpired, but I’m guessing Keefe was consulted on Engvall’s call-up.

Sheldon Keefe; John Tavares
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe talks to captain John Tavares (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Engvall, who’s on the final year of his entry-level contract, was in the middle of a breakout AHL season. Last season, he scored 32 points in 70 AHL games and he started this Marlies season on a hot streak, with 16 points – halfway to last season’s mark – in 15 games before his call-up.

On Nov. 21, Keefe’s first game as Maple Leafs head coach and Engvall’s second NHL game, Engvall scored a shorthanded goal (his first NHL goal) in a 3-1 victory over the Coyotes in Arizona. It was an unassisted game-winner which heralded a good start for both Engvall and his former Marlies coach Keefe.

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On Dec. 14, Engvall had the first two-point game of his NHL career when he assisted on two goals in a 4-1 win over the Oilers. His two points against the Oilers in the team’s most recent game gives him four in two games against Connor McDavid and company.

Engvall’s Success Continues

Engvall is a force among the team’s bottom-six forwards. For the season, he’s seldom skated less than 13 minutes per game and his ice time, his impact, and his confidence are increasing each game.

On Jan. 4, Engvall scored a beauty on a great play by Kasperi Kapanen, who broke out with Engvall, pushed the puck between a defender’s legs, and passed it to Engvall in front of the net who backhanded it over the right shoulder of New York Islanders’ goalie Semyon Varlamov. It looked as if the young Swede has been doing it forever.

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Now, skating regular ice time, Engvall has 12 points in 22 games. He has goals in three straight games, four goals in his past five games, and seven goals in his last ten. Such strong play points to his potential. Although it’s early in his NHL career, he’s found a home on this rising team’s roster. Like Johnsson, he’s proven to be great value for a seventh-round pick.

Related: Maple Leafs Rookie Report: Engvall, Mikheyev Earning Trust of Teammates

Engvall’s trajectory also reminds us that the Maple Leafs have had success with Swedish players. Borje Salming, Mats Sundin, and now Engvall. I’m thinking Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren aren’t far behind.