On the surface the Leafs third line appears to be working. They are absorbing a ton of defensive starts, freeing up the Leafs top six for better offensive situations, and generally they have be playing a low event, low high danger area style of play that is like catnip for NHL coaches. Kampf, Kase, and Engvall are doing what you have them on your roster to do and that’s probably why this is the one line Sheldon Keefe hasn’t tinkered with, at least until Kase was hurt.
While Keefe may love this line, I certainly do not. Part of this is because I like to be entertained by hockey and this line is not particularly entertaining or exciting in anyway. Part of this is because I believe that Ondrej Kase is capable of much more than what he has been given to work with, and while Nick Ritchie and Michael Bunting have been given the opportunity to test whether they can be a fit in the top six, Kase hasn’t yet been afforded the same chance.
There’s also the issue with Engvall and Kampf truly being better suited to 4th line roles and while both are clearly a cut above Frederik Gauthier, they are closer to that 4th line center fit than being third line caliber players. In Engvall’s case the Leafs might be better suited giving Nick Ritchie some increased icetime to find his way, and with Kampf, well, as much as I’ve preferred Alex Kerfoot on the wing in the top six this year, the reality is that he’s the closest thing Toronto has to a third line center at this point, and probably needs to resume that role so that there is a balance struck across the top three lines.
The good news for Sheldon Keefe, and for me, is that there is a real opportunity to keep the Kampf line intact, it’s just going to have a minor adjustment and that is continue to preserve Kase as a top nine forward, but drop Engvall and Kampf down to fourth line usage.
Kampf was a bottom tier forward last year on a bad Chicago team, we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s a bit of a project and honestly what Toronto has gotten out of him so far is a sign of potential. Pierre Engvall is wildly inconsistent in what he gives the Leafs and on his best days shows numbers that lead you to believe he should play higher up in the lineup, but on his worst days is the biggest invisible man.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of this line once Ilya Mikheyev is healthy enough to return to the roster as well. Mikheyev is another player with the promise of a top nine role on the Leafs, and seemingly Engvall is the lock to be the odd man out, and perhaps that is the timeline for this unit to make it work. With Kirill Semyonov establishing that he is worth a look at a bottom six center role as well, the pressure is on and the bar needs to be set higher than “doesn’t get scored on too often.”
Data sourced from Evolving Hockey (numbers are from end of day November 9th, 2021)