Maple Leafs debut new lines at first practice with coach Sheldon Keefe

HNIC host David Amber joins Lead Off to discuss what kind of head coach he thinks Sheldon Keefe will be for the Maple Leafs, saying he’ll be able to connect better with the players and make more in-game adjustments.

The Sheldon Keefe era in Toronto has officially begun.

Much has been made over the past 24 hours of the changes Keefe could bring to the Maple Leafs lineup upon assuming control of the bench. Taking the ice with the club for the first time Thursday, the new head coach made some key tweaks to the team’s forward lines in hopes of quelling the club’s six-game losing streak.

Of particular note were the positional switches for forwards Zach Hyman and Alexander Kerfoot, with Hyman moving from John Tavares’ left wing to No. 91’s right side, and Kerfoot shifting from centre to left wing alongside veteran Jason Spezza.

Rookie Ilya Mikheyev moved up into the top six, joining Tavares and Hyman while Mitch Marner remains sidelined. On the fourth line, Nic Petan drew in for Nick Shore alongside Frederik Gauthier and recently recalled Pierre Engvall.

Perhaps the most interesting early change, though, is the one that pulled struggling defenceman Tyson Barrie up onto the team’s first power-play unit.

The Maple Leafs’ marquee off-season acquisition came to Toronto as a power-play stud, having seen only four defenders league-wide post more man-advantage points than his 25 last season. One year prior, Barrie similarly finished with the third-most power-play points (30) among all NHL defenders.

He’s gotten little opportunity to contribute in that role in Toronto, however, a key factor in a disappointing 2019-20 season that’s seen him post just seven points (all assists) through 23 games so far.

With Keefe at the helm, it seems Barrie will get a chance to recover that power-play touch, sharing the blue-line with No. 1 option Morgan Rielly behind forwards Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander.

The club rolled out a second unit including Jake Muzzin on the blue line, alongside Jason Spezza, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen and Kerfoot.

Keefe’s in-game debut behind the bench will come Thursday night when the Maple Leafs take on the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena.

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