With the 57th overall pick of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs chose Matthew Knies. Unlike many of the Maple Leafs’ recent draft choices, the 18-year-old Knies has something that most recent draft picks don’t have. That’s size.
Why the Maple Leafs Draft so Many Smaller Players
Knies is a 6-foot-3 power forward, which is quite different than some of the choices the Maple Leafs have made over the past few seasons. The team’s focus has been to pick skilled players regardless of their size.
As well, because the Maple Leafs have had such strong regular-season teams, their record usually relegates them to lower-round picks. And, given that good smaller players are usually the ones left in the mid-range of the draft, that’s what the Maple Leafs tend to pick.
Simply stated, those are the best players left when the Maple Leafs pick. With Knies, the team went big.
One reason the Maple Leafs were able to pick up Knies with the 57th pick overall is that he had a down-and-up season in the USHL prior to his draft. Knies had contracted COVID-19 and it took him a good deal of time to recover. But, when Knies did recover, he was overpowering.
Knies Reminds Me of Both Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman
Knies knows how to utilize his strength to win physical battles. He’s tough in the corners; and, it’s really difficult to knock him off the puck when he’s carrying it. Like another big-bodied Maple Leafs’ player from Phoenix, Arizona, Auston Matthews, Knies is an excellent puck handler. Also like Matthews, he has a high hockey IQ. He’s also a strong passer because he can see the ice so well.
Like Matthews, Knies is also a creative playmaker with a strong wrist shot who can beat goalies from a distance as well as bump-out loose pucks near the net.
However, Knies also reminds me of former Maple Leafs’ digger Zach Hyman because can win puck battles in those small spaces near the boards and in the corners. If comparisons with Hyman are anywhere close to accurate, that’s a good thing for the Maple Leafs.
I’ve also read other reviewers who suggest that Knies also reminds them of Hyman, but – especially at his young age – compares favorably with “The Departed One.” Knies is bigger and stronger; and, some believe he’s more skillful and has a better shot.
On the other hand, Hyman is a better skater, which is why he became such a powerful forechecker. If Knies would ever be able to reach the same level as Hyman, he’d have to work on becoming a faster skater.
Knies Got to Play with Team USA in the Olympic Games
Last season, the 19-year-old Knies (who’s from Phoenix) played at the University of Minnesota. He finished his first season there, scoring 15 goals and 18 assists (for 33 points in 33 games). He was the fifth leading scorer (points-per-game) in the NCAA among all the 2021 draft picks.
Earlier this year, when the NHL didn’t send a team of its players to the Olympic Games, Knies was invited. He made Team USA and ended the Olympic Games with a goal and an assist in four games.
Knies Fills a Maple Leafs Need – for Next Season?
Knies stands out among Maple Leafs’ prospects for both his physical play and his scoring ability. He hits and uses his size to dominate opponents. Such size, skill, and temperament are Knies’ key to future success in Toronto.
Is there a chance, if the expected departures of current Maple Leafs’ forwards materialize, we might see Knies in a Maple Leafs’ uniform sometime next season? Perhaps this is dreaming, but wouldn’t it be fun to see a fourth line made up of Knies on the left-wing, 6-foot-8 Curtis Douglas at center, and 5-foot-11 Joey Anderson on the right-wing?
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