Ilya Mikheyev, the best Maple Leafs forward. Read MoreMikheyev emerges from group of talented Leafs forwards to dominate through scrimmages — Toronto Sun
Mikheyev emerges from group of talented Leafs forwards to dominate through scrimmages
Published:July 23, 2020
Updated:July 23, 2020 10:30 PM EDT
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Ilya Mikheyev, the best Maple Leafs forward.
The best among any Toronto players, for that matter.
Mikheyev has had that kind of training camp, as he was voted by media as the most valuable player in the five-scrimmage tournament, putting a fine point on his overall performance with a hat trick for Team Blue in a 6-3 win against Team White on Thursday at the Ford Performance Centre.
We get it — the accolade does not mean much in the big picture. Mikheyev’s play, however, certainly does, and he is bound to start the qualifying round on a line with captain John Tavares and Mitch Marner, giving the Leafs another lethal offensive option against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I thought he was excellent,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Probably more than anybody, he is really excited and happy to be back here playing in a team environment.
“He and his line, I thought, were really good. They’re playing with lots of pace and making lots of plays and had chemistry. That means a lot.”
Consider Mikheyev’s recovery from a lacerated wrist on Dec. 27 against New Jersey complete, never mind that he has not yet played in a game since. With his size, speed and finish, Mikheyev dominated through many of the scrimmages.
“You see it out there — he doesn’t make it easy on our D-men,” Leafs winger Kyle Clifford said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing him in an actual game because I think it’s only going to elevate from there.
“His work ethic is top-notch. He’s a really good fit with the guys he’s playing with. Those are the guys you need down the stretch, that play an all-around game.”
ROBERTSON: IN OR OUT?
We asked Keefe: Based on what you’ve seen through camp, do you expect 18-year-old rookie Nick Robertson to be in the lineup for the opener against Columbus on Aug. 2?
“We haven’t made any decisions on that yet,” Keefe said. “I think the exhibition game (on Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens) will really help us refine things. I’ve really liked the progression he has shown.
“There’s other things at play here, his play and his development throughout all of this, but there’s also decisions to make on the other players, the ones that have been in our lineup and played for us up until the pause. We will make a decision based on all of those factors about what’s going to help us the best prepare to win Game 1.”
Robertson on Thursday played on the right side on the fourth line with veterans Jason Spezza and Clifford, knocking Frederik Gauthier to 13th-forward status. Pierre Engvall was at his usual spot on the third line with Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen.
“Nick Robertson has made an impact,” Clifford said. “He’s a focused individual and you can tell he wants to be here and he wants to be a part of what we’re building. I really like his game, he has a really good shot and he’s tenacious on the forecheck, there’s no give-up in his game. It was fun to play with him.”
The physical, hard-nosed style used by the Jackets won’t be a factor in whether Robertson cracks the Game 1 lineup.
“I don’t think that that matters in this case for us,” Keefe said. “We’re trying to put the best team possible on the ice and make the right decisions for our group that’ll help us win, no matter who the opponent is.”
With Keefe putting Zach Hyman and William Nylander back on Matthews’ wings, one of Robertson, Gauthier or Engvall will be the odd man out for Game 1. On defence, the pairs of Morgan Rielly-Cody Ceci, Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl and Travis Dermott-Tyson Barrie are set … One forward outside his top six has stood out, Keefe said. “I would say that Kappy would be the one,” Keefe said, referring to Kapanen. “If I look at his progression through the first three days of camp on to this, Kappy has really raised this level in terms of using his speed and getting on the puck and having second, third efforts on the puck. He’s a difference-maker for us when he does that.” … Holl played with a full visor a day after being cut for stitches on his face … Keefe broke character when he was asked if he has an idea of how long a leash he can give Frederik Andersen in a best-of-five series. “No, I don’t,” Keefe said after laughing. “Anytime you go into a series with any sort of strategy of what to do if things don’t work out for your goalie, you’re not setting yourself up for success. Our goalie is going to be ready to go.” … The name of the NHL club in Seattle, revealed on Thursday to be the Kraken, sat well with Matthews. “I like it, I think it’s great,” Matthews said. “I think it’s pretty awesome that Seattle’s going to get a hockey team. It’s a great sports city. The jerseys are a little flashy, but I think they’re pretty nice.” … Matthews said forward Nic Petan caught his eye this week. “Just seems like the puck is following him around out there, he’s had it quite a lot, making really good plays,” Matthews said … The Leafs will have a full day off on Friday before returning to practice on Saturday.