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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

TLN Top 20 Leafs: #20 Pierre Engvall

It’s time to kick start our Top 20 Leafs countdown. And to start it off we’ve got a player that we as Leafs fans have generally underrated since day one. Pierre Engvall was a 7th round pick. He then took four years to make it North America, all the while he had a hard time cracking our top twenty prospect list. Now here he is coming in at the bottom of the Leafs roster rankings. On one hand it’s amazing that he’s here, but on the other hand maybe we’re still not giving him as much respect as he deserves compared to some of the other players on this list.

When it came to ranking Engvall, there was a pretty significant range on him. One of our contributors had him as the Leafs 13th best player, some had him ranked exactly where he’s at, and 4 contributors left him off their rankings completely. Somehow all of this seems fair.

Five Interesting Stats

S% GF% TOI w/Mikheyev SH TOI Career GWG/G
11.5 54.05 282.5 22:50 26.7%

So here’s the thing on Pierre Engvall, he’s billed as a defensive specialist. Still, his 7 goals in 42 games is solid offensive production for a young bottom six NHLer, and when you consider the fact that most of his time is spent playing with Ilya Mikheyev, it’s clear he hasn’t really been given much of an opportunity to explore his offensive potential either (not that there’s much reason to assume that there’s more there.)

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The nearly 23 minutes of shorthanded play came towards the end of the season, and probably to the surprise of no one, was almost exclusively partnered with Ilya Mikheyev when he was out there in that role. Engvall’s shorthanded ice time was 11th overall on the Leafs, and was 7th amongst the forward group. With the departure of Jimmy Vesey, and the injury to Zach Hyman last year, Engvall found his way into the mix and this season Engvall stands a good chance on being utilized in that role again either as a second unit penalty killer, or one of the first in line for relief work.

Last Season…

It took a bit of time for Sheldon Keefe to trust Pierre Engvall last season. Engvall wasn’t seen as an every day player at the beginning of the year, and the majority of his sub 10 minute games came early in the year. Through injuries, waivers, and increased performance we began to see a bit more of Engvall as time went on, and when paired with Ilya Mikheyev, Engvall became a low event darling, playing on the HEM line along with Zach Hyman, and proving they could be a capable shutdown unit against the lackluster Canadian division.

Like Mikheyev, and Frederik Gauthier before them, Engvall received a ton of criticism for his unwillingness to use his size in a meaningful way, certainly something that held back his icetime, as did the perception that he was incapable of scoring. That likely came from his 12 game goalless drought, or possibly one of his other 2 eight game goalless droughts. I guess you could say that Engvall was equally streaking in the opposite direction as that means he produced 7 goals in the 14 games not linked to the times he couldn’t buy a goal.

One of the biggest selling points on Engvall last season, as it was with the season before, is that Engvall could line up at any forward position. While his faceoff totals aren’t strong, and Engvall lacks the speed you’d hope for in even a bottom six center, Engvall is positionally sound, and certainly responsible enough in both ends to serve in that role.

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What to expect…

This year sees Pierre Engvall reporting to camp in a similar situation. There’s no reason to believe that Engvall will be a lock for the opening night lineup, there’s no reason to even believe that he can’t lose his spot on the roster at all. Still, I’d bet on Engvall being a part of the team for a couple of reasons.

The first is the previously mentioned jack of all trades ability that Engvall has. The fact that he can be underwhelming on either wing or at center probably at least makes him a good choice for being the 13th forward, if the Leafs carry one. Given that the Leafs rolled the dice on affordable roster options like Kampf, Ritchie, and Bunting that we want to believe will pan out, it’s worth considering the possibility that one or more of them might not be a fit, and in that case Engvall is a reasonable Plan B to all of them.

The other factor is that he did work well with Ilya Mikheyev, and while he has supposedly been looking for a trade, the Leafs seem to have plans for him as well and those plans could include Engvall, although his former KHL center, Kirill Semyonov is now also in the mix for a roster spot, and it’s hard to imagine that the Leafs will run a Engvall-Semyonov-Mikheyev line and then sausage Spezza, Simmonds, Kampf, Kase, and one of Bunting, Ritchie, or Kerfoot into a solitary line. That’s before considering Joey Anderson, Nick Robertson, or Adam Brooks.

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As far as giving Engvall some consideration for moving up to the top six, well, he could certainly add a bit more defensive zone responsibility to offset William Nylander, but putting Engvall up there seems like it would be Toronto admitting defeat on a number of acquisitions ranging from Kerfoot and Mikheyev to Ritchie and Bunting. It seems like Nick Robertson and Josh Ho-Sang will have a better shot at a top six job than Engvall, and that’s probably a fair call, even if Engvall’s GF, HDCF, and xG seem to warrant some consideration for being able to handle that role.

While highlights always tell only the best story, there is hope when looking at Engvall on this play. He reads the play well and moves away from Mikheyev, and the uses his size well to control the puck and places his shot well. For all the criticisms of Engvall’s offence, I don’t think his shot placement is part of that.

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IF we see more of this Engvall he addresses a lot of needs for a Leafs team that is relying on bottom six players stepping up.

Engvall’s goal song

As we go through the lineup this year, I’ve decided we should end each article on a fun note, and try to land on what song would be a good fit for each Leaf if Toronto went with individual goal songs. The choice for Engvall seemed liked like an obvious one, and given the substantial nature of that part of Pierre’s anatomy, the goal song should be Protect Ya Neck from the Wu-tang Clan.

Statistics sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, PuckPedia, and NHL.com