Physical: 6’4″, 192 pounds
2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: #9
Draft Info: 7th round, 188th overall in 2014
When it comes to career ceilings, Pierre Engvall‘s will more or less be defined by what goes down this coming season. His future basically depends on it. In fact, a strong performance in 2019-20 is so important to Engvall that no prospect in the entire Leafs’ system has arguably more riding on its outcome than he does.
The path to hockey’s highest level is there. He just needs to travel down it.
Before we get into all of that, though, let’s first take a moment to appreciate just how improbable it is that Engvall is still here. The guy is a former seventh-round pick, for christ sake. Drafted as a thoroughly unknown European flier, Engvall joined a Leafs regime that, back in 2014, still took orders from Dave Nonis and still employed a scouting staff so inept, Brendan Shanahan would downright massacre it the very next year.
The Leafs selected six players in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Two of them remain with the organization today. Engvall is one. William Nylander is the other.
So, put yourself in management’s shoes. You are the newly-appointed Leafs GM. With a scorched-earth rebuild on the horizon and a team in desperate need of a fresh start, what good does a seventh-rounder with serious developmental questions who was a draft choice from arguably the most inept era in franchise history do you?
But, for some reason, the Leafs stuck with Engvall. They stuck with him as he bounced around between leagues overseas. They stuck with him through injuries. And, before his eventual breakthrough in that year’s playoffs, the Leafs stuck with Engvall in 2018 through a relatively underwhelming Marlies debut.
Then again, that’s kind of what smart organizations do. Whereas, say, the Edmonton Oilers would typically deem Engvall a casualty of regime change, the Leafs opted down the path of patience with their lanky seventh-rounder, invested in a diverse skill set, and gave him a shot.
If things go as planned, they could be rewarded handsomely for it.
The Toronto Marlies lost a total of 243 man-games to injury last season. That number — which is a lot, mind you — happened to include 15 from the team’s top centre, Chris Mueller, whose absence, along with Sam Gagner‘s mid-February departure via trade, dealt what appeared to be a finishing blow to the Marlies’ depth down the middle.
With four centre spots and not enough options in his lineup to fill them, fate ultimately forced Sheldon Keefe into kickstarting the Pierre Engvall at Centre Experiment despite Engvall admittedly having not played the position since he was 10. It was a risky move.
The ensuing results, however, certainly didn’t paint the picture of an athlete shaking off 13 years of rust.
Lining up primarily between the duo of Dmytro Timashov and Michael Carcone (just because he’s gone doesn’t mean you should sleep on him) to start, Engvall proceeded to rattle off 11 points in the 18 games he spent as a pivot to close out the regular season, the bulk of which managed to come at even strength.
The early returns don’t stop there, however. Perhaps the most telling sign of Engvall’s overall impact is the fact that both Timashov and Carcone underwent their own offensive resurgences on his wing, as well — Timashov with 14 points, Carcone with 15 — at a time when each player sorely-needed one.
That, as the kids say, is pretty rad.
(DISCLAIMER: I have no idea what the kids say)
To recap: despite adjusting to what was basically an entirely foreign position, as a rookie, in an injury-riddled lineup and on North American ice, Engvall not only generated reasonable production in his own right, he managed to ignite those who played alongside him, too.
No matter how you spin it, that holds merit.
Moreover, Engvall’s unexpected evolution gave the Marlies an added luxury. He was found money. Arriving as a dependable pivot saw Engvall play a large part in the team’s improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final with a roster that would finally get healthy prior to the playoffs.
Engvall’s fingerprints are all over it. According to data compiled by The FaceOff Circle, his staggering 63.6% CF/60 at 5v5 throughout the Marlies’ second-round series versus the Cleveland Monsters measured in as the highest of the entire forward corps.
Why Is He In This Tier?
If Mueller’s hamstring makes it through the 2018-19 season unscathed, Engvall lands on our prospect rankings as a Fence Sitter teetering dangerously on the wrong side of the post.
Think about it. No Mueller injury, no centre dearth; no centre dearth, no centre experiment; no centre experiment, no developmental renaissance. Without Mueller’s absence and the subsequent roster need it opened, Engvall stays pigeonholed as a perimeter-hugging, yet offensively-inclined winger stuck inside an organization flush with them.
Just take a look at the public discourse circling Jeremy Bracco, for example. The guy nearly led the entire AHL in points last season at a time when most of his similarly-aged peers were finishing up their senior year of college, and Twitter continues to write him off as nothing other than a victim of a stacked pipeline.
Sure, Engvall’s physical traits are more likely to draw the grit-loving eyes of Mike Babcock than Bracco’s, but the belief still stands that, as a winger, Engvall remains a surplus asset whose path to big-league employment risks getting cut short at any moment by the next Tyler Ennis.
As a centre, though, Engvall is coveted. Heavily, so.
In fact, when you account for all the tangible pieces at play, Engvall is arguably the organization’s top centre prospect at the moment, even landing above (albeit slightly) the next closest option in Adam Brooks. And for those of you who were wondering, Frederik Gauthier no longer counts. He had his chance.
Therefore, Engvall is perhaps the encapsulation of what the Maybe tier stands for.
If his trajectory from last season successfully carries into this one, then maybe Engvall carves himself out a role as Toronto’s multi-purpose fourth-line centre. But if that progress takes a step back — with the combination of increased age and internal advancement from those around him knocking him down a few organizational pegs — Engvall maybe never gets a chance to recover.
Personally, I’m leaning more towards the former.
Hey, remember when the Leafs signed seven guys at once? That was fun, wasn’t it? Well, it might even be more fun for the Marlies’ make-it-or-break-it guys like Engvall.
As the roster stands now, I have Engvall centring either the Marlies’ second or third line in between Darren Archibald and Garrett Wilson. While that winger duo might not be the headline-grabber names one would expect to be given to a prospect like Engvall, it’s important to remember that Engvall is still adjusting to his new position. He needs support. Naturally, a pair of veteran, proven AHL scorers is about as good of a support system as one can find.
Not to mention, the departures of Josh Jooris and Colin Greening over the summer will likely elevate Engvall onto the Marlies’ top penalty-kill unit, albeit hinging upon how the Leafs’ bottom-roster training camp battle plays out. Engvall played a central role in a PK attack that, across the first two rounds of the playoffs, operated at an 86.4% efficiency rate.
If Engvall improves upon the 0.50 points-per-game pace he sat at in 2018, grabs the reigns of the PK, and benefits from his new running mates, it’s not a stretch to wonder if we see him log a game or two for the big club before the season is done.