Third men in de­liver first-rate start

Line of Ker­foot, Moore and Mikheyev flashes speed, touch and grit

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - KEVIN MCGRAN SPORTS RE­PORTER

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.

RICK MADONIK TORONTO STAR

Ilya Mikheyev, cen­tre, cel­e­brated his first NHL goal with Tyson Bar­rie and Trevor Moore in the Leafs’ sea­son opener.

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