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Kerfoot has had a more consistent role this year, but still remains the Leafs’ Swiss Army Knife

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Photo credit:© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
When it comes to Alex Kerfoot, you don’t really think of him as having a set place in the Leafs lineup. He can be on Tavares’ wing one game, centering the fourth line the next, and he’s even had significant stints flanking Kampf and Spezza. His ability to move throughout the Leafs lineup is a critical need for the Leafs, but at the same time, more so than any other year Kerfoot has found himself on a consistent line with John Tavares, and to a slightly lesser extent as of late, William Nylander. As a result Kerfoot finds himself with 5 more points than his previous career best season, with 10 games remaining. What he is doing seems to be working for him, and the Leafs, but is his current situation the best role for him come playoff time?
A lot of Kerfoot’s success comes from a January PDO bender. His 15 points in 11 games is simply something we haven’t seen from him before in a Leafs uniform, and his numbers certainly normalized quickly after that.
5v5 Stats20-2121-22
P/601.642.59
TOI11:4712:51
CF%48.8250.68
GF%51.1156.31
xGF%49.6651.43
HDCF%46.8852.92
On Ice Sh%7.9311.6
On Ice Sv%92.5790.64
PDO1.005102.2
Kerfoot has taken noticeable leaps in pretty much every category, and while attributing that to who he plays with could be part of it, the whole idea behind Kerfoot is that he plays with absolutely everyone.
One of the interesting phenomenons of the season is that while Kerfoot is having a better year, from a corsi perspective, every forward (except Auston Matthews) that plays with Kerfoot is a little worse when they are on the ice with Alex.
On Ice WithTOI WithCF% WithCF% Without Kerfoot
John Tavares587.7851.4754.23
William Nylander489.6351.5255.06
David Kampf141.8243.6951.73
Mitchell Marner115.6549.5858.61
Ilya Mikheyev113.1553.5558.07
Ondrej Kase71.1747.6651.23
Wayne Simmonds64.0044.2550.26
Michael Bunting62.8552.6857.68
Jason Spezza55.7744.4450.99
Auston Matthews51.6067.7159.43
Pierre Engvall47.7849.3855.55
Most of the time it doesn’t even seem to be particularly close either. This kind of speaks to Kerfoot as the “Plan B” of the Leafs lineup card, and ironically for someone who attended Harvard, he has become the safety school of the roster. He’s the best available second line left winger, the best available top six center injury replacement, and the adequate shutdown line winger, etc.
The interesting thing about the Corsi drop off is that it really didn’t translate when looking at actual goals, and the majority of Leafs forwards produced a lot better when they were on the ice with Kerfoot, but Marner and Matthews are pretty notable exceptions.
On Ice WithTOI WithGF% WithGF% Without Kerfoot
John Tavares587.7853.1342.22
William Nylander489.6350.9436.00
David Kampf141.8252.6346.34
Mitchell Marner115.6553.8559.81
Ilya Mikheyev113.1566.6751.52
Ondrej Kase71.1772.7348.15
Wayne Simmonds64.0060.0044.19
Michael Bunting62.8571.4359.38
Jason Spezza55.77100.0046.88
Auston Matthews51.6055.5658.14
Pierre Engvall47.7875.0051.28
It’s also kind of interesting to see Kerfoot’s outputs by who he plays with. While he’s been good with Tavares and Nylander, there isn’t any that stands out as Kerfoot being reliant on them for his production on him helping them out in any way. He’s just doing what he’s doing wherever he goes in the lineup.
On Ice WithTOI WithGoals/60First Assists/60Total Points/60S%
Auston Matthews51.601.163.495.8119.38
Ondrej Kase71.170.841.695.0614.05
Michael Bunting62.851.911.914.7763.64
Pierre Engvall47.7803.773.770
Ilya Mikheyev113.151.061.063.716.63
Jason Spezza55.771.081.083.2313.45
Wayne Simmonds64.001.880.942.8126.79
David Kampf141.820.420.852.544.23
William Nylander489.630.490.612.331.07
John Tavares587.780.510.612.040.76
Mitchell Marner115.650.520.521.563.71
So yeah, he’s good with Tavares and Nylander, but he’s good with everyone. At the same time, everyone seems to be getting few chances when he’s on the ice and Kerfoot isn’t going to be the first choice for being added to any line. Basically, you know that you want Kerfoot in the lineup every night, but you have to figure out your first 11 forwards and drop Alex in the final spot. It’s a bit of a bizarre situation, but one that has some benefits for the Leafs.
Ultimately the likely place for Kerfoot will remain alongside Tavares. William Nylander is adding something to the line with Kampf and Engvall, and it doesn’t seem like Kase will be returning soon. Mikheyev has shown he can hang with Tavares, and it comes down to whether Blackwell or Kerfoot is the best fit for Tavares, and there’s a lot more of a body of work that says Kerfoot deserves the shot, to begin with. So what we are seeing now, while not exciting is probably close to Keefe’s optimal forward lineup.
Kerfoot also remains a critical Plan B if there is an injury to one of the Leafs top centers, which if it comes up as a long term thing again probably derails the Leafs, but in the short term, Kerfoot can be an option. Kerfoot’s play with Nylander still allows for a functioning top six, and that’s important.
As for what comes of Kerfoot beyond this season for the Leafs, that’s a whole other story. He has one year left on his contract and will receive the majority of it in a bonus. He’ll have value this summer at a time when the Leafs might also want to move out salary. Combine that with a PDO bender that has given him a bit more trade value, it’s hard to imagine he’s back. That doesn’t change that in the short term, Kerfoot is a lineup card chameleon the Leafs can use.
Data sourced from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and Evolving Hockey
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