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Who Will be the Maple Leafs 3rd and 4th Line Centers?

The Toronto Maple Leafs made roster changes in the postseason; however, they didn’t sign another center. Who will be the bottom-six centers?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have great strength at center. Few teams can compare with the Maple Leafs’ one-two punch of Auston Matthews and John Tavares. That means that, barring an injury, the team’s top two lines are solid up the middle.

John Tavares Auston Matthews
John Tavares Auston Matthews upper deck Maple Leafs

Things look good to the coming regular season as well. Tavares has been given a clean bill of health after the severe concussion he suffered in in Game 1 of the first round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. And given Matthews’ disposition and the drive he has to improve, who’s going to bet against him dumping the ghost that haunts him after his struggles scoring during last season’s playoffs? He led the NHL in goals by a wide margin even, but didn’t have much to show against the Canadiens’ checking.

He’ll improve. He’s driven that way.

Related: Signing Petr Mrazek Represents New Maple Leafs’ Goalie Philosophy

But What About Lines Three and Four?

At this offseason’s trade deadline, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas held onto his own players. Although Alex Kerfoot was constantly mentioned as a trade bait (or even as a player who needed to be traded to free up salary-cap space need), Dubas chose to keep him.

There was good reason to do so. Kerfoot had both a decent regular season and postseason. In fact, after Tavares was injured he scored six points filling in for the fallen captain.

Still, even with the Maple Leafs’ newest signings – left-wingers Michael Bunting and Nick Ritchie – there’s a chance that Kerfoot might not be solid as the team’s third-line center. In fact, he might be on the wing on either of the top two lines. If Kerfoot doesn’t line up in the middle of the third line, who will?

Other Possibilities for Third and Fourth Line Centers

Option One: Pierre Engvall

The question is whether head coach Sheldon Keefe has confidence in Pierre Engvall to play him regularly at center. Engvall seems to shift around between playing wing and playing center because he can be inconsistent. However, the tall Swede is one of the best conditioned athletes on the team. Furthermore, his speed and the space he takes up with his long arms make him an interesting defensive option. He matches up well as a checking-line center with almost any opponent.

Option Two: David Kampf

David Kampf is an interesting case. The Chicago Blackhawks protected him in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, but then didn’t qualify him and he became a free agent. Dubas quickly jumped to sign him because he adds insurance in the form of a veteran center. Kampf signed a two-year contract for two times the NHL league minimum ($1.5 million per season).

Zach Hyman Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman needs to be replaced in the Maple Leafs lineup

I’m pretty sure that he’s seen as replacing Zach Hyman on the penalty kill. He’s also likely to get some time as a bottom-six center. He’s not much of a scorer, but then head coach Sheldon Keefe wanted a third-line checking unit last season so that might mean Kampf will get a chance as the third-line center. He’s also good in the face-off circle.

The Third-Line Answer?

The disposition of the third line will be interesting. Will it be a checking line or an offensive line? From my perspective, the best third-line option that coach Keefe has might be to create a third-line checking unit, with Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev on the wings and Kampf at the center. That likely pushes Kerfoot to the top-six.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Fans Might Love Blue-Collar Nick Ritchie Like Zach Hyman

Option Three: Adam Brooks

Brooks should be in a battle for the 13th forward spot. However, given his season in 2020-21, the 25-year-old has a chance at consistent playing time. He can score and tallied four goals in 11 games last season. If he doesn’t make the team, he has to clear waivers to land on the Toronto Marlies’ roster. That fact in itself might keep him on the big club. I don’t think the Maple Leafs want to risk losing him.

Personally, I believe Brooks has the potential to become the regular fourth-line center. I happen to think he’s due for a bit of a breakout season.

Option Four: Jason Spezza

Jason Spezza is the final possibility for the fourth-line center, as the roster is currently constructed. He played that position at times last season and didn’t look out of place. However, I believe the team prefers to play the 38-year-old on the wing. That gives some of the other younger guys, which is almost everyone compared to Spezza, the chance to center the line.

The Fourth-Line Answer?

From my perspective, the best fourth-line option that coach Keefe has might be to create an offensive-minded fourth-line unit, with Brooks at the center and Spezza and Wayne Simmonds on the wings.

Obviously. all this is speculation. We won’t know until the season starts. Even then, given Kerfoot’s flexibility, it could be a dynamic group of forwards who make up the team’s bottom-six units.



  1. DL

    August 10, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    Matthews is one center with Marner and Bunting. JT will be on a line with Nylander and Kerfoot. I would play Kampf on one of the two bottom six lines with Engvall and Mikheyev on the wings and the fourth center would be Spezza with Ritchie and Kase. The Kampf line is huge and solid checking line. Adding Ritchie and Kase would help to even out the offense.

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  7. Randy Alexander

    August 17, 2021 at 9:19 am

    Engvall should not be in the NHL, half of these other guys are ‘waiver wire pickup quality” or come with huge question marks. That’s what we get when others are grossly overpaid and that includes 3rd liner Kerfoot at a ridiculous $3.5. Because of that he has very limited trade value. is it really realistic to expect Kampf, Bunting, Case and Ritchie to suddenly start producing after multiple teams gave up on most of them. Ritchie is out of shape, Case is constantly injured, Kampf is defense only and not sure about Bunting but he spent a lot of time in the minors without great numbers. It’s not that i don’t want them to do well but the deck is stacked against them. I cannot see them finishing ahead of TB, Bost, Fla and that puts us 4th in our own division. I’m afraid our optimistic time of 3-4 years ago has past. Sad but Dubas, Keefe, Shanahan will probably be gone at this time next year and it will be a new savior.

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