The first reaction from many insiders and members of Leafs Nation when it was learned that Joe Thornton would be starting the 2020-21 NHL season on the Maple Leafs top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner was that it wouldn’t last. Some figured he was too slow, others suggested this was just an experiment. However, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe says he plans to stick with it, despite the early concerns.
Keefe spoke with Tim and Sid on Monday and when asked if he’d be keeping the line of Thornton, Matthews and Marner together, he quickly responded with yes. But, his explanation as to why is a bit surprising. In fact, it has a lot less to do with Jumbo Joe than people might realize.
Keefe noted that he’d spoke with Thornton a while back and expressed his desire to match him with the Leafs predominantly two best forwards. But, he also said conversations have been had about the amount of minutes they’ll play as a trio and that Thornton won’t play all of them. It’s a situation they’ll have to keep a watch on, he admitted.
But, there were other reasons he wanted to put Thornton where he was has, outside of “wanting to give it a look.”
The Kerfoot, Mikheyev and Hyman Line
Perhaps more intriguing to Keefe than how Thornton will fare with Marner and Matthews is what the third line of Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman can do. This is a line Keefe says he has huge hopes for.
Keefe said, “They way that we’ve laid out the team here… I’m really excited to get a look at the line of Kerfoot, Hyman and Mikheyev. I think that is just a really important line for us and I want to give that an opportunity to go.” He added:
“In order for that to happen, obviously I’m taking Hyman and Mikheyev, who had played in our top six, and using them on that line with Kerfoot. We need people to fill spots.”
As for whether or not he changes his mind during camp, Keefe said he would be very surprised if the Leafs don’t start the season as the lines have been set up at camp. As for Thornton’s spot on the top line, Keefe said, “It’s not just that one line, it’s how affects the rest of the lineup.”
Leafs Want to Maximize What Joe Can Bring
Noting his skills as a leader and veteran, Keefe says Joe thinks the game the way Marner and Matthews do. “He’s got an elite brain, great energy, great leadership that will help our young stars.”
He also said he’s not terribly worried about Thornton’s speed because he knows the way Marner and Matthews can skate and get back on defense, they’ll compliment him quite nicely.
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