« I think I can score 20 »

TORONTO – Someone else has to come.

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

But with a piece of depth scoring on the doorstep this summer – Ilya Mikheyev (now at Vancouver) had 21 goals last season; Ondrej Kase (Caroline) and Jason Spezza (retired) combined for another 26 – Kyle Dubas’ heavyweight roster will need a second wave of production.

Further down the range, the late-flowering, bevel-jawed specimen that is Pierre Engvall is a prime candidate to pursue one career year with another.

Despite holding officiating rights in his final RFA season, the 26-year-old left winger was quick to negotiate a contract, signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal that will will lead directly to unrestricted free agency.

« I can’t wait to get back, » Engvall said Tuesday, via Zoom, outside his off-season home in Sweden.

« I hope and think I can score 20 goals. I will definitely do my best to prepare for this summer and come back as well as possible for next season.

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

The 2014 seventh-round pick spent four seasons with the AHL Marlies before making the jump to the NHL in 2019-20.

After enduring a few early days in coach Sheldon Keefe’s doghouse, the speedy 6-foot-5, 215-pound burst into 2021-22, carving out a significant role on the Leafs’ third line, killing penalties and recording career highs in goals (15), assists (20), over/under (+13) and games played (78).

With his financial affairs in order, Engvall can focus on training. There’s no reason he can’t form an effective control unit with David Kämpf and new signing Calle Jarnkrok.

« I would love to play with him. He’s a smart player. I think we could play well together, » Engvall said.

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

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

So the player is betting on himself – hoping to get the kind of money and commitment that Mikheyev garnered from the Canucks.

And the Maple Leafs added Engvall to their growing list of platform Assets of the Year. Alexander Kerfoot, Michael Bunting, David Kämpf, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Wayne Simmonds and Justin Holl are also all heading for UFA status in 2023.

We dangle carrots in front of the middle class of Toronto.

“I discussed it with my agent (Claude Lemieux), and we came to the conclusion that it was the best thing to do,” explained Engvall. « I let him handle it, and I’m just glad I was able to re-sign with Toronto. »

With Engvall locked up, Dubas only has the exceptional future of RFA Rasmus Sandin.

(Yes, Engvall has been in touch with his compatriot but hasn’t told Sandin about his own negotiations: « He’s fine. He’s in Stockholm right now. »)

Engvall made great progress last season. Seeing and feeling that the progress only fueled his confidence and his desire to take the next step.

“He just found a real rhythm with his role and was really stable and consistent with where he was in the lineup,” said John Tavares, encouraged to see Engvall using his oversized frame to his advantage.

« He’s so fast and so strong, and you just have to figure out how to use him. »

If Engvall can use it to spawn 20, that’s even better. For him, and for a Maple Leafs team that expects Engvall’s best nights to be ahead of him.

« I’m delighted to be back there and having a really good year with the team, » Engvall said.


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