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Three left wingers skate onto the ice...

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Which one gets the roster spot?

NHL: FEB 13 Stars at Maple Leafs Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Today, the Maple Leafs held a practice and scrimmage timed to start at 4 p.m. like their second game against Columbus. For those players not lucky enough to have played AHL hockey with all its interesting start times, this was a chance to enjoy the experience.

Prior to today, the talk was all about Nick Robertson. This segment of Overdrive with Kristen Shilton from yesterday covers the will-he-or-won’t-he state of affairs to that point.

Shilton makes the point that unless Sheldon Keefe is actually serious about using Robertson as the third-line left wing, he shouldn’t be taking practice time away from the incumbent Pierre Engvall.

Today, Keefe said this:

I thought I spoke hockey cliché pretty well, and I can’t quite parse that out into English.

One thing to remember is that the Leafs are aiming for a 28-29 man roster, not the usual cut to 23 in a regular training camp. Robertson isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Engvall. At least not yet.

But there’s some possibilities here worth considering beyond Keefe’s desire to throw the kid a bone while staving off boredom by getting to see him play a little more. Engvall could be a little banged up. It’s also possible the Leafs want some real scoring skill on that third line in some situations.

The line on Engvall has settled into: He was good at first on the Leafs, but tailed off. When another, more plausible reading is: He had a shooting percentage spike at first, a trough later, and on average he doesn’t score much ever. I know which I believe.

I believe Keefe when he says he’s happy with Engvall, but I also know that no matter how much he likes him, Engvall has to be third-line good enough or he’s overpaid. If Robertson could legitimately take that roster spot next season, the Leafs would be fools not to seriously consider it for cap reasons alone.

While all that was going on, and everyone was speculating if this is a serious roster choice for the playoffs ...

... someone else suddenly appeared to make this question much tougher to answer:

These are the forward lines from today and yesterday in practice:

Hyman - Matthews - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Mikheyev
Robertson - Kerfoot - Kapanen
Clifford - Gauthier - Spezza

Engvall

William Nylander has been at left wing most of this training camp, and that might be about keeping Ilya Mikheyev on the right side, although no one seems to even now find it remarkable when Nylander moves to his off-wing.

And for the scrimmage game itself:

If the Leafs go deep to the point Johnsson can join the team, then Robertson seems like he’ll be the first odd man out of the three left wings angling for that one third-line job (assuming Johnsson can’t jump right into the top six). And then Engvall either bounces someone on the fourth line up to the press box or he sits out.

Next season, it seems like it will be simpler, assuming Kyle Clifford will price himself out of the Leafs’ range and Jason Spezza won’t. But then there’s Alexander Barabanov, a switch-hitting winger, to consider, as well as a new contract for Mikheyev. That’s a lot of wingers, and it’s hard to see Robertson knocking enough out of a spot to take one. But the difference between Engvall and Robertson is $400,000 in salary cap space and a totally different style of play.

The Leafs should be thinking about their playoffs and their playoffs only, but maybe Engvall doesn’t need any more practice at being Engvall, and this whole exercise is about the future beyond August’s playoffs. The Leafs like to keep options open. They haven’t decided now who will be where on the team next season. But I agree with Shilton. If Robertson is not getting in the lineup, sitting Engvall now seems an odd choice and the media speculation (this time) is pretty legitimate.

Maybe it’s all just Keefe playing chess with his old coach:

Poll

Will Robertson get a regular playoff roster spot?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Yes
    (469 votes)
  • 37%
    No
    (366 votes)
  • 15%
    Playoffs which year?
    (153 votes)
988 votes total Vote Now