Third men in deliver first-rate start
Line of Kerfoot, Moore and Mikheyev flashes speed, touch and grit
Alexander Kerfoot centres Ilya Mikheyev and Trevor Moore. It isn’t a line with name players, but the Maple Leafs’ third unit is making a name for itself in the early going of the NHL season.
Moore has two goals and an assist, while Kerfoot and Mikheyev each have a goal and two assists after the Leafs’ 2-0-1 start.
“The better that line plays, and the more speed and tenacity they play with, the better we’re going to be as a hockey club,” coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s a real important group for us. I like what (Kerfoot) is doing. He and Mikheyev are really going in the right direction. I thought (Moore) is doing the same thing, so it’s a pretty good group for us.”
It’s a group that wasn’t even around last year, when the Leafs’ depth at forward was exalted. The third line featured Nazem Kadri at centre with the wingers rotated frequently. Patrick Marleau, Josh Leivo, Connor Brown, Par Lindholm and Kasperi Kapanen all saw a little action until William Nylander signed, after a long contract impasse.
This year, the situation looks more stable and seems to have developed some chemistry quickly. Mikheyev, Kerfoot and Moore have combined for nine points while the two top lines have eight apiece.
“It’s been like three games,” Kerfoot said. “So, I mean, it’s going to take a while. I think that there’s still some things we can clean up, but they’re good players and their details are so good that it’s easy to play with them.”
The 25-year-old Kerfoot, drafted in the fifth round in 2012, is the key. Acquired over the summer from Colorado (also with Tyson Barrie in the trade for Kadri) he is speedy and a bit of a playmaker. He also plays with a bit of an edge. Not as much as Kadri, who was frequently suspended, but he still makes his presence known.
“He’s got some grease to him. He enjoys it. He’s smart, he’s competitive, he seems to be feeling good and understanding how to play,” Babcock said of Kerfoot. “He’s got way more grease in him than I thought, way more grit. I think he can be a real important player for us. (Assistant coach Paul McFarland) is really working on him in the faceoff circle. I think that can be a big part of his game.”
Mikheyev has also been impressive. He’s big at six foot three, with speed — not just fast “for a big guy,” as they sometimes say in hockey, but flat-out fast. And he’s apparently a quick learner, even as he gets used to English.
“Mikheyev is a really good player,” Babcock said. “I put him out there killing the penalty there in overtime (against Montreal on Saturday) and I didn’t know for sure if he understood what I was telling him, but he did it anyway and looked good doing it. That’s good. He’s getting better every day.”
If there’s a question mark on the line, it’s Moore. He’s eager, aggressive and a good forechecker. His quick play behind the net led to Kerfoot’s goal on Saturday night, and he took a pass from Mikheyev and scored — a seeing-eye wrister beating Montreal netminder Carey Price — in his best game so far.
“I thought Moore was buzzing,” Kerfoot said. “He’s disrupting plays all over the ice, making plays with the puck. And he kind of created both of our line’s goals.”
But Babcock has spoken freely about Moore’s inconsistency through training camp and the early part of the season. It’s a message for the late-blooming 24-year-old forward — who played 25 games in the NHL last year — to not take his job for granted.
There’s a fair bit of push coming from players beneath him in the depth chart, and when forward Zach Hyman returns — after off-season knee surgery — Kasperi Kapanen will be looking for new linemates after filling in with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Moore could be destined for the fourth line.
Ilya Mikheyev, centre, celebrated his first NHL goal with Tyson Barrie and Trevor Moore in the Leafs’ season opener.