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His game is dull, he can’t score, but Alex Kerfoot still serves a purpose

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Photo credit:© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
11 days ago
I’m a firm believer that when it gets to the point when we are complaining about Alex Kerfoot that generally means things are going pretty well with the Leafs. They’ve probably won recently and the top six probably scored because we aren’t complaining about them. Morgan Rielly likely made it through the last outing with being on the ice for a memorable goal against, and the save percentage in the past game was likely over .900, and the goalie debate club has been canceled. That usually means it’s time to talk about either Alex Kerfoot or Justin Holl. Today we’ll go with Alex Kerfoot.
I figure I’ll start up front with the positives with Kerfoot and we can work our way back from there. It feels more optimistic that way but also helps us to the place where we realize that good defense from a forward isn’t enough to make us happy.
That really makes it seem like Alex Kerfoot is not only a strong defensive forward but he should really be in the Selke conversation. Except that’s an award for two way players and the offensive part of the two-way game is MIA. Kerfoot also some strong defensive numbers when you look at what is coming against him 5v5.
SeasonGPTOI/GPCA/60SA/60GA/60xGA/60SCA/60HDCA/60HDGA/60
201720187910.4659.2432.092.252.3127.5210.671.09
201820197812.2455.1029.092.322.0324.0610.051.07
201920206512.7953.3830.233.252.4326.5510.751.73
202020215611.7951.2526.902.002.1225.819.271.18
202120228212.8757.5831.492.842.4127.4610.351.59
202220236411.9348.4724.981.962.1424.3510.371.02
A number of the defensive measures are career bests for Kerfoot and those that aren’t still awfully close to some of his career best numbers. Defensively there isn’t much to criticize about Kerfoot, on paper but that doesn’t make you feel any better about Game Six, does it?
Competition LevelEVTOICTOI%CA/60CF%GA/60GF%ONSV%
All763.08100.0047.9653.701.9753.7092.01
Elite230.7830.2451.7449.202.3447.1090.91
Middle273.9035.8949.9553.901.9752.6092.97
Gritensity258.4033.8642.4957.401.6361.1091.86
Looking at Kerfoot’s season by using the PuckIQ quality of competition levels, Kerfoot has been fairly solid against the elite competition level. While the numbers are all higher, generally that is because of the fact they are tougher to play against, relative to other Leafs forwards, Kerfoot has the best CA/60 against elites, but his goals against are more towards the middle of the pack.
There is something to Kerfoot’s defensive game and Kerfoot being the Leafs’ third most frequent penalty killer isn’t a coincidence either (oddly enough, this is an area where he’s lacking defensively). I wanted to find holes in Kerfoot’s defensive game statistically for you, but in reality, he really is that good. He doesn’t hit, at all, but he takes a tremendous amount of hits which speaks to the reliance on him as both a bottom six puck transporter and also his willingness to take hits to make the play. I guess really what I’m saying here is that if you have an issue with watching Kerfoot play defensive hockey it’s that he’s probably boring to watch. Or that his defensive game was very much absent when it mattered most in the playoffs last season.
So let’s get to what Kerfoot isn’t, especially this year, and that’s a usable offensive player.
Kerfoot is coming off a career high point total and managed to hit 13 goals in the process. This year, no Leafs forward has a worse goals per sixty than Kerfoot, who sits at just three goals on the season. His assists have also disappeared and some of that might have to do with linemates as this season has seen Kerfoot most frequently with David Kampf, Pierre Engvall, and Calle Jarnkrok as opposed to last season with John Tavares, William Nylander, and Ilya Mikheyev, and that would be a valid reason, but there’s also something to be said for Kerfoot not meriting being placed in that offensive situation anymore either. The offensive production for both Tavares and Nylander was better away from Kerfoot, even if he did make the line more responsible.
Kerfoot has also been gifted 40 minutes worth of powerplay time this season and that fits with the woes of the secondary powerplay unit in general. Unfortunately with Engvall traded and Ryan O’Reilly hurt, the Alex Kerfoot second unit powerplay experience is riding again and I won’t say that anyone is wrong to be bummed out by that.
Such is the life of the Swiss Army Knife.
I purposely bring up Alex Kerfoot as a “Swiss Army Knife” player because throughout the year Kerfoot is regularly put in situations that aren’t optimal for him having success. The Leafs wanted to send Michael Bunting a message that he wasn’t playing up to top line standard, so in goes Alex Kerfoot to take the heat. Earlier in the year during Auston Matthews injury, it was Kerfoot who found himself centering the second line. That never goes over particularly well. And when the Leafs are fully healthy and the rest of the roster is clicking, the question turns to why the Leafs have a $3.5M cap hit on the fourth line. Kerfoot’s season is designed for him to constantly be taking shit.
Now, I’m not saying that frustration isn’t warranted here. A $3.5M player with $750k of salary owed to him seems like something you’d want to see moved out at the trade deadline when the Leafs are in the process of loading up. Kerfoot on the top line or the powerplay absolutely should have some level of frustration associated with it, and in a season where David Kampf has found the back of the net seven times, it seems reasonable to expect at least the same from Alex Kerfoot. This isn’t a free pass and not being able to count on Kerfoot for bottom six offense has been part of the Leafs struggle this year, but knowing what he does do and do fairly well, there is absolutely a place for him on the Leafs roster.
I’ve suggested before that Kerfoot if paired with Ryan O’Reilly could form two thirds of a great third line and there is absolutely a chance that Ryan O’Reilly as a finisher can work with Kerfoot’s limited offensive abilities that at least lean more towards playmaking.
There is also a benefit to putting Kerfoot with Kampf to eat the clock in the neutral zone until the Leafs top six is refreshed and ready to return to the ice.
If there is an intention to use Acciari and Aston-Reese as a crash and bang duo, putting Kerfoot on the ice with them means someone will continue following the puck after the body has been played.
I don’t expect anyone is walking away from this with their mind changed on Alex Kerfoot. Visually next game he’s going to fire a couple of weak shots into the goaltenders chest and those will be the only things that will stand out about his night. Oddly enough that’s what everyone should want from Kerfoot. My final thought on Kerfoot is this, Kerfoot’s style of play can show mistakes but it’s harder to see the things he does to redeem himself.
Data sourced from Evolving Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, and PuckIQ,

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