During the first week of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp, head coach Sheldon Keefe surprised fans right from the start. On Day 1, for example, he shocked Maple Leafs’ nation by announcing his first-line match-up of NHL veteran Joe Thornton with two of the team’s best forwards – Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
However, there have been other surprise matchups, including Keefe’s note that he had invested a great deal of importance to the third line of Ilya Mikheyev, Alex Kerfoot, and former top-six forward Zach Hyman.
What’s the News on John Tavares?
All these surprises aside, one name that hasn’t popped up very much in any of the news from the training camp is the name John Tavares. And that’s a bit of a surprise. After all, he is the captain of the team and one of the better NHL forwards playing on any team.
Yesterday, in a video released from Sportsnet, head coach Keefe spoke about Tavares and how prepared the Maple Leafs’ captain is to begin the season. According to Keith, Tavares is in good shape and ready for the season to begin.
Clearly, Keefe notes, throughout the training camp Tavares has shown that he is focused and ready for the season. Halfway through the first week of training camp, Keefe offered a number of things that he’s seen that he’s liked from Tavares so far in training camp. Keefe also spoke about his expectations for the Tavares’ line partners William Nylander and Jimmy Vesey.
The Problems of Last Season Are Behind Tavares
Keefe praised Tavares for his obvious preparation for the season, especially after last season when he had to fight through injuries, had family changes with the birth of his family’s first child, and had his training camp interrupted. This season, although the training camp is being held in the context of a global pandemic, those things seem to be behind Tavares; and, as Keefe noted, Tavares looks to be in incredible shape.
Keefe, who’s surprised many Maple Leafs’ watchers with the rigor of his practices, noted that he set up Day 1 of training camp as an especially challenging day. In other words, he worked his players hard to help them become better “conditioned.” Still, as Keefe noted, at the end of that rigorous practice, Tavares was as strong as anybody on the ice “right to the very end” of practice. Keefe noted that that was “really, really great to see.”
Tavares Has Two Jobs as a Leader
Keefe labeled the first three days of training camp as “tough days;” As he suggested, when he assessed Tavares’ work, it was both extremely focused and committed to help lead the team. As an example, he pointed to Tavares’ work helping Vesey – who is new to the team – get more comfortable with the team.
From Keefe’s perspective, Tavares has two jobs. One is on the ice. The second if to help his own line of Nylander and Vesey come together more cohesively.
If Tavares can do those leadership jobs well, he might be poised to have one of his best seasons ever. Because of the shortened season, that might now show up on the scoresheet, but it might show up in team wins and a longer than usual Stanley Cup run.
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