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Photo Credit: © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

TLN Top 20 Leafs: #11 Alexander Kerfoot

Alexander Kerfoot finds himself in a peculiar middle ground among the Toronto Maple Leafs forward group heading into this season. Somewhat unfairly judged by the fanbase due to the fact he essentially replaced Nazem Kadri, Kerfoot has failed to live up to the expectations set upon him to become Toronto’s play driving third-line centre.

Following an offseason where many thought he was on the chopping block, Kerfoot enters his third season with the Maple Leafs in what feels like a make or break year for his tenure in the organization. Either he finally solidifies his place as a two-way play driving 3C, shifts back to the wing and becomes a complementary top-six winger, or he ends up being shipped out of town.

Five Important Stats

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2020/21 SH TOI 2020/21 5v5 CF% 2020/21 FOW% 2020/21 PTS/GP
2021 Points (Playoffs)
85:21 48.82% 40.80% 0.411 6

It was a tough season for Alexander Kerfoot in 2020/21. His best value probably came on the penalty kill, eating 85:21 of shorthanded time-on-ice to rank third on the team among forwards.

While the PK ability is appreciated, it also can’t be the primary value Kerfoot is providing. When operating as the 3C, the third line just never got rolling as evidenced by Kerfoot’s career-low in points per game. Factor in his abysmal 40.8% faceoff win percentage, among the league’s worst for regular centres, and it’s easy to see where the apprehension regarding Kerfoot has sunk in.

The playoffs brought that sense of what is possible, however. His six-point performance when bumped up to the second line with William Nylander showed what could be unlocked with Kerfoot’s game, it’s just something that he’s yet to unlock when playing deeper in the lineup.

Simply put, Kerfoot’s time in Toronto has been underwhelming and the stats back it up. There are some bright spots, which we’ll get to, but overall Kerfoot has not given the Leafs the value they were hoping for when he was acquired with Tyson Barrie for Kadri. Following his impressive playoffs, though, there’s a chance that momentum could carry into the 2021/22 season.

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What happened last year?

As laid out in some of his key stats from 2020/21, Kerfoot again left you wanting more for the bulk of the year.

Acquired from Colorado following back to back 15+ goal, 40+ point seasons, Kerfoot again failed to score at the same rates he did with the Avalanche. Eight goals and 23 points were not the production Toronto was hoping for out of Kerfoot as the third line centre primarily, though he often did not have much help from his most common linemate of Ilya Mikheyev.

Still, more was expected of Kerfoot offensively and he didn’t deliver. His possession and defensive metrics also took a step back. It truly was a regular-season to forget for Kerfoot, which made his sudden playoff performance all the more fascinating.

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Upon John Tavares’ injury, Kerfoot was thrust into a role higher up the lineup alongside William Nylander, where the duo flourished to lead the team in playoff scoring. It was a surprisingly strong end to the year for Kerfoot, one that leaves optimism as we enter the 2021/22 campaign that the Leafs can finally find the best position to maximize Kerfoot’s value.

What can we expect in 2021/22?

Kerfoot’s place in the Leafs lineup is among the more intriguing questions I have that will be answered during training camp. There are two situations I can see Kerfoot in this season, either as the 3C yet again, or higher in the lineup at 2LW.

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The addition of David Kampf gives the Leafs a true centre that could potentially eat some minutes at 3C, a luxury they have not had recently. Kerfoot’s results with John Tavares and William Nylander have been quite strong, but the lack of another centre option often left Sheldon Keefe with little option to move Kerfoot up the lineup.

John Tavares + William Nylander, 2019-2021 5v5 Stats
W/ Kerfoot W/O Kerfoot
TOI 290:04 661:45
CF% 55.07% 52.87%
xGF% 58.13% 56.19%
PDO 0.992 1.008

Kampf’s arrival gives them that lineup flexibility they haven’t had, which could mean a Kerfoot move to the second line at 2LW. It’s worked over the past two seasons when they’ve tried it, and while there are a plethora of wingers battling for positions on the Leafs roster, Kerfoot at 2LW might just be the best solution they’ve got.

As we start training camp, however, Kerfoot remains in a 3C position with his two most common linemates from last year in Ilya Mikheyev and William Nylander. This trio seems temporary given Josh Ho-Sang’s current spot flanking John Tavares, but the important aspect is that Kerfoot remains at centre to start camp.

If the Kerfoot-Nylander duo keeps the chemistry that was flowing in the playoffs, I can easily see the two join Tavares soon. I just have a hard time believing Toronto spent $1.5M of their precious cap space on Kampf just to use him as a 4C. Kampf is going to get playing time, at least to start, and I have to believe that will result in Kerfoot shifting back to the wing, either remaining on that third line or up with Tavares and Nylander.

On special teams, look for Kerfoot to keep his spot on the second penalty kill unit. I expect Kampf to take a bulk of the minutes lost from Zach Hyman’s departure, but Kerfoot will still factor in.

Highlights

Kerfoot’s goal song

I had some trouble thinking of one here, but I’m going with “Time is Running Out” by Muse.

For starters, I had to fit a Muse song into one of these TLN Top 20 articles (sorry not sorry).

Kerfoot is entering his third season with the Leafs after two underwhelming years and he is the most expendable moderate cap hit at $3.5M. At least for myself, it feels like this season is Kerfoot’s last opportunity to prove it with the Leafs. If he can’t solidify his spot either as a second-line winger or a play driver on a third line, he’ll be out the door next offseason.

Or in other words, his “time is running out” to show what he’s got in the blue and white.