Alex Kerfoot remembers seeing his phone blow up with texts when an outtake for the NHL's Expansion Draft coverage showed the forward presumably claimed by the Seattle Kraken.
"It was a day of emotions and I really didn't know what to think at the time," Kerfoot recalled when he saw the clip.
It turned out that the clip was one of several takes that ESPN shot at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market and Kerfoot remained a member of the Leafs, despite going unprotected in the draft.
In an episode of 'The Leaf: Blueprint', a miniseries released on the Toronto Maple Leafs YouTube channel, the front office set up camp at OVO Centre to deliberate over their approach to the Expansion Draft protection list. They ultimately settled on protecting four defensemen (including Justin Holl and his generous $2 million cap hit) at the cost of safeguarding more forwards, leaving Kerfoot exposed.
That's when Dubas presents a protectionary move.
"We have an opportunity with Pittsburgh (Penguins) to acquire Jared McCann," Dubas says. "Their ask is Filip Hallander and late pick."
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan followed with the scenario that ultimately unfolded.
"What could happen is we could trade Hallander for McCann and lose McCann," Shanahan said. "And essentially what we've done is trade Hallander to keep Kerfoot."
Kerfoot's dependability and versatility to play centre or wing made him an asset the Leafs did not want to lose. He was one of three players to play in all 56 regular-season games last season (John Tavares and TJ Brodie the others). He was second in team scoring with a goal and five assists during the 2021 playoffs and fit in well at times when called upon to move from centre to wing when injuries to other players forced a change
With so many question marks at wing this season, and the addition of shutdown centre David Kampf, signed to a two-year, $3 million contract, Kerfoot's willingness to move around becomes his biggest asset.
Newcomers Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase and Michael Bunting were brought in to fill the void on the wing vacated by Zach Hyman, Nick Foligno, Joe Thornton and Alex Galchenyuk. But it's no slam dunk the moves will work.
Ritchie is the lead contender to occupy the top-line, left-wing role, at least to start. He's been skating with Mitch Marner and a place-holding Adam Brooks. With 15 goals and 11 assists in 56 games in a third-line role with the Boston Bruins last season, it's not a slam dunk that the experiment works on the first line.
Bunting had 10 goals and three assists in 21 games last season with the Arizona Coyotes, but his sample size in the NHL is limited to 26 games.
Kase is an NHL player and has looked great at camp, but injuries have limited him to 58 games over the last two seasons.
If two or more of these wingers don't fulfill the vacancies open to them, that's where Kerfoot may need to play an elevated role as a flank, something he did for a few games last season when injuries to players like Matthews and Tavares took hold of the team.
"That's one thing that Kerf has done a really good job of with us is being able to execute in various roles, but also just been willing (to do it)," Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "He's a team-first guy that whatever the coach asks of him, whatever the team requires, he's there to go out and do it and I thought he did a remarkable job for us last season in the playoffs and elevated (his game) and performing the way that he did."
Kerfoot was asked to kill penalties by the Leafs when they acquired him on July 1, 2019. Although never performing on the PK at the NHL level, he has played in that role consistently. At times, Kerfoot stepped in on the second power play, when needed.
The Leafs are high on Kampf as a shutdown center. With the added depth the team could have up the middle, Kerfoot could be better suited to move to the wing.
"I'm comfortable playing David Kampf against anybody at any time and that's a very important thing," Keefe said. "It's going to manage the minutes of Matthews and Tavares a little bit better, too, so that can open up many opportunities for how we can use Kerfoot.
The battle for spots at the wing will continue to evolve as training camp shakes out. Kerfoot continues to take reps at center, but that can change when the roster slims down.
Whether it's injuries or gambles on the wing taking shape, Kerfoot's ability to shift between center and wing continues to be his best asset to the club, as they continue to try and put the pieces to the lineup puzzle together.