Why Maple Leafs, Pierre Engvall bet on each other: ‘I think I can score 20’

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Pierre Engvall discusses his plans to improve his game for the upcoming NHL season after having signed a one-year. $2.25 million contract.

TORONTO – Someone else needs to pop.

Absolutely, the Toronto Maple Leafs will ride or die with their four most explosive offensive threats.

But with a chunk of depth scoring walking out the door this summer — Ilya Mikheyev (now in Vancouver) pumped 21 goals last season; Ondrej Kase (Carolina) and Jason Spezza (retired) combined for another 26 — Kyle Dubas’s top-heavy roster will need a second wave of production.

Further down the lineup, the late-blooming, chisel-jawed specimen that is Pierre Engvall is a prime candidate to follow up a career year with another one.

Despite holding arbitration rights in his final RFA season, the 26-year-old left wing didn’t belabour contract negotiations, inking a one-year, $2.25-million deal that will walk him straight to unrestricted free agency.

“I can’t wait to come back,” Engvall said Tuesday, via Zoom, outside his off-season home in Sweden.

“I hope and I think I can score 20 goals. I will definitely do my best to prepare this summer and get back as good as I can be for next season.”

Engvall’s $1-million pay bump was hard-earned.

The 2014 seventh-round pick served parts of four seasons with the AHL Marlies before making the NHL leap in 2019-20.

After some early days enduring coach Sheldon Keefe’s doghouse, the speedy 6-foot-5, 215-pounder broke out in 2021-22, carving a meaningful role on the Leafs’ third line, killing penalties, and registering career highs in goals (15), assists (20), plus/minus (+13) and games played (78).

With his financial business tidied up, Engvall can focus on training. There is no reason he cannot form an effective checking unit with David Kämpf and new recruit Calle Jarnkrok.

“I would love to play with him. He's a smart player. I think we could play good together,” Engvall said.

“I like to have the puck. I want to skate a lot with the puck and make plays, but I also want to be a really hard guy to play against without the puck.”

The cap-strapped Maple Leafs are already a projected $1.5 million over the salary ceiling, so Dubas could ill afford to buy any of Engvall’s UFA years on this extension.

So, the player is betting on himself — in hopes of securing the kind of money and commitment Mikheyev reaped from the Canucks.

And the Maple Leafs have added Engvall to their growing list of platform-year assets. Alexander Kerfoot, Michael Bunting, David Kämpf, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Wayne Simmonds, and Justin Holl are all headed to UFA status in 2023, too.

Carrots are being dangled in front of Toronto’s middle class.

“I discussed it with my agent (Claude Lemieux), and what we came to is, it was the best thing to do,” Engvall explained. “I let him take care of it, and I'm just glad I got to re-sign with Toronto.”

With Engvall locked in, Dubas only has RFA Rasmus Sandin’s future outstanding.

(Yes, Engvall has been in touch with his countrymate but hasn’t talked to Sandin about his own negotiations: “He’s good. He’s in Stockholm right now.”)

Engvall made great strides this past season. Seeing and feeling that progress has only fueled his confidence and his desire to take yet another step.

“He's just found a real groove with his role and been really stable and consistent with where he's been in the lineup,” said John Tavares, encouraged to see Engvall using his outsized frame to his advantage.

“He's so fast and so strong, and it's just understanding how to use that.”

If Engvall can use that to pop 20, even better. For him, and for a Maple Leafs squad that is banking that Engvall’s best nights are still ahead of him.

“I’m excited to get back there and have a really good year with the team,” Engvall said.

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