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When Sheldon Keefe checks his new scoring forward assets, it starts with six first-round picks, four of them high on the NHL salary grid at between $6.9 to $11.6 million US, two of them No. 1 overall draft selections.
Yet the coach of the Maple Leafs has a place in the lineup — and his heart — for a trio of minimum-wage Marlies graduates, all earning under $1 million each, who were with him down the street at Coca-Cola Coliseum. Pierre Engvall, Frederik Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov find themselves reunited with their former Marlies boss in The Show and not just as window dressing.
Since Keefe replaced Mike Babcock, they have seen between five minutes to double figures in ice time, with Gauthier and Engvall also trusted with the penalty-killing duties. They bring three strengths to the table — size, tenacity and a hint of offence in their own mucking way.
“There is a comfort level there for sure,” Keefe said after Saturday’s 2-1 win against Buffalo improved his record to 4-1. “Of course, you’re trying to sort out where that comfort level should be here in this league, but this weekend (a home-and-home split), those guys were outstanding. It really gave me a lot of confidence to put them on the ice and a lot of good things happened when they were. When the game was tied, you get (the Auston Matthews and John Tavares lines) out there a little more and take away from them, but every time I put them out, they did a good job.”
Engvall is the newest arrival, a 6-foot-5 left winger who was the last player chosen in a Dave Nonis-run draft, in 2014. After leaving the Swedish League in the 2017-18 season, he was an integral part of the Marlies’ Calder Cup run and brings 34 games worth of AHL playoff experience, a post-season resume that many Leafs would envy.
“Sheldon knows what I can do,” Engvall said. “The game I play with the Marlies I try and play up here, use my speed to create offence and defence, taking care of defence first.
“I’m used to playing with Freddy and Dymo from the Marlies. I know the coach wants us to score more on our chances, but I think that’s coming, too.”
The opposition can certainly hear him and the 239-pound Gauthier coming.
“That makes it easy,” Engvall said. “Goat can hold off two guys and he can set you up. Dymo is good on the cut backs and creating space for us.”
With Tavares in the box on Saturday, Gauthier won a hard-fought defensive-zone faceoff against Jack Eichel, who was killing the Leafs in the dots.
MARLIES NAME NEW COACH
The Marlies picked up a win — and a new coach on Sunday.
Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, who was inundated with applications from minor league and NHL coaches after Keefe was promoted on Nov. 20, announced after a 5-3 win over Utica that Greg Moore will run the farm team.
The 35-year-old Maine native spent the past two seasons with the USHL Chicago Steel.
“Over the last 10 days, we have evaluated all options,” Dubas said in a statement. “After a detailed review, it was clear Greg was the best fit. His record in development and winning in the US National Team Development Program and the Steel to begin his coaching career made us take great notice of him as a candidate.”
Dubas added the Moore fit the development philosophy of the Leafs. Moore coached at many levels of the NTDP. After a Hobey Baker nomination with the University of Maine, Moore played 10 NHL games with Calgary.
The Marlies had been run by Keefe assistants Rob Davison and A.J. MacLean and lost only one of six games. On Sunday, Adam Brooks had a hat trick and assist as they rallied to beat the Utica Comets 5-3 at Coca-Cola Coliseum.
HOORAY FOR THE GTA
While the Leafs have yet to celebrate a Stanley Cup since the grand Shanaplan was launched, there’s at least something to cheer on the home front.
Starting with Brendan Shanahan becoming cub president in 2014, many figures in the rebuild migrated to the GTA through the draft (Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott), trades (Zach Hyman) and free agency (Tavares and Jason Spezza). Now comes Keefe, the first GTA-born coach since Mike Murphy in 1996-98, if you don’t count Hamiltonians Pat Quinn and Peter Horacek.
Scotiabank had a large contingent of Keefe family and friends on hand Saturday for his home debut, which Oakville’s Tavares could relate to.
“I’m sure it was a thrill for him,” Tavares said, after potting the overtime winner. “It was special for me from the day I got here. We both want to maximize the opportunity. We have a hell of a group here, a hell of an organization. This was a nice reward for him tonight.”
William Nylander marked a calendar year since ending his contract spat and re-signed with the Leafs, scoring his 10th of the season on Saturday.
“Nice to be here right now.” Nylander said of being back in double-figure goals. “Now we’re focusing on what’s next.”
Nylander’s defensive game — and that of linemate Matthews — still needs work as Buffalo’s Conor Sheary got away for what could’ve been a huge Sabres’ goal, only to have Frederik Andersen snare it just on the good side of the goal line to survive video review.
“Amazing,” Nylander said. “He saved me, that was my guy.”
Saturday was Tavares’ 10th game winner in 102 games for the Leafs … Andersen is now tied with James Reimer and Mike Palmateer for a franchise-high seven wins against Buffalo, though Andersen did it in just 11 games … The Leafs had Sunday off after a six-game road trip and nine contests in 18 days. They have another back-to-back early this week, in Philadelphia on Tuesday and home to Colorado Wednesday. One of those will be another Michael Hutchinson start, trying to end his losing streak at 0-5-1, before the Leafs consider another replacement … The Marlies have recalled 6-foot-6 winger Justin Brazeau from ECHL Newfoundland.
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