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Saturday FTB: Are Knies or Abruzzese to play on the fourth line?

Friedman is thinking the Leafs might try to sign both prospects to power up their fourth line, but should they?

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Team USA Athlete Processing Ahead of Beijing 2022 Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for USOPC

For about a week now, Elliotte Friedman has been sharing news, rumours, and opinions about what the Toronto Maple Leafs might do at the trade deadline this coming Monday. That isn’t surprising, it’s what all hockey insiders are doing.

What makes Friedman unique is one bit of opinion — he has yet to say he’s heard this is what Toronto is actually going to do — that no other insider has mentioned as far as I’m aware. Normally, when Friedman says something that he makes clear is his idea or opinion, rather than anything he’s heard, I take it with a grain of salt. He’s a top insider, but not exactly the best analyst.

However, I want to talk about it because he’s been saying it almost any chance he gets. He said it in his latest 32 thoughts article on Wednesday, on the 32 thoughts podcast yesterday, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen tweets of him saying it on the radio. Here’s the gist of what he’s saying, from the article:

6. Toronto is also looking at fourth-line changes. They were committed to getting Simmonds to 1,000 games and, as a long-time Spezza fan, I’d love to see him get the 10 points he needs for 1,000. But they’ve quietly looked into bolstering that trio. They’ve talked to Vancouver about Tyler Motte. As per Irfaan Gaffar, Tampa Bay’s been on Motte, too. Prospects Nick Abruzzese and Matthew Knies are possibilities after their NCAA seasons are over.

The basis of the idea is that the Leafs’ fourth line, which we all loved at the start of the year, has been a problem of late. Spezza and Simmonds are not getting younger, and they’ve been falling off. We’ve seen Keefe try scratching one or both of them, they don’t play a lot at even strength, and he’s experimented with guys like Clifford, Engvall, Robertson, and even guys like Kase or Kerfoot during his wilder experimental phases.

Now you might think... it’s the fourth line, who cares? Which is fair, they’re the players that play the least of anyone else on the team. It would be more prudent to spend your assets to beef up the middle six forwards, or the second pair on defense, or a goalie who can stop the gosh darn puck better than Mrazek or Campbell have the past couple of months.

Which seemed perfectly logical! Until the past week, when we’ve seen some utterly bananas trades being swung.

  • Ben Chiarot — a second pair defenseman — was traded for a first round pick, a decent prospect, and a 4th round pick.
  • Calle Jarnkrok — a middle six forward — was traded for a second, a third, and a seventh round pick.
  • Brandon Hagel — a middle six forward with a shooting percentage spike — was traded for TWO first round picks and two young NHL players.

And at this point, everything we hear about other players rumoured to being swapped is the teams are asking for just as much. Numerous insiders have said the Leafs have talked with Seattle about Giordano, but also said that Seattle wants at least a first back. Hampus Lindholm? A first and more. Even a no-name guy making league min like Jacob Middleton on San Jose has a trade ask of a second and a prospect/player.

And those are all for the rentals.

Meanwhile, every insider has reported that the Leafs are at least telling other teams they do not want to give up their first round pick, or any of their top prospects. So when you take the bonkers trades for guys who are not stars or on longer deals, the other teams asking for the moon for their trade bait, and the fact the Leafs aren’t willing to give up that much... well what are they to do?

On the 32 thoughts podcast, Friedman said he thinks the Leafs are going to try and get one or two defenseman, and a depth forward to upgrade the 4th line. Because that’s all the Leafs can really get with the assets they’re willing to deal.

Which brings us back to Friedman’s often-stated opinion of late, that the Leafs have the option of signing either Matthew Knies or Nick Abruzzese once their NCAA seasons are over, and they can maybe help inject some life into said fourth line.

But, okay, should they?

Both are NCAA players, which is a fair level below the NHL in terms of quality. They did also play at the Olympics, and did well for Team USA. Nick Abruzzese may be likely to sign anyway, since he’s already 22 years old (turning 23 in June), started his NCAA career late, and will finish his third season with Harvard. He doesn’t really have much left to prove there.

Matthew Knies, on the other hand, is still only 19 years old, but he’s a higher draft pick, much bigger at 6’3” and 205 lbs, and plays the kind of hard, forechecking, power forward style that could work quite well on a fourth line — in theory, anyway.

If Abruzzese signs an ELC and turns pro after finishing his NCAA season, I wouldn’t be surprised. If the Leafs try him out on their fourth line in the NHL right away, I would be quite surprised. And if the Leafs sign Matthew Knies to an ELC after only one NCAA season, and throw him on the fourth line as a 19 year old right away, I’ll be even more surprised.

Can they either or both of them make it work though? Both at once seems like asking a lot, considering neither has any NHL experience yet. But having one along with two vets in Clifford, Simmonds or Spezza? Maybe that could work. They could possibly add more skill and speed than they’ve been getting from those three so far.

Bunting - Matthews - Marner

Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander

Mikheyev - Kampf - Kase

Knies - Engvall - Simmonds/Clifford

That fourth line would be big, fast, and physical. Probably a lot of fun too. Swap in Abruzzese to use along with Spezza and one of the others, and you have a line with more skill and offensive potential.

I’m not a scout, so I don’t really know if this would be something that would actually work well, much less if the Leafs would seriously consider or not. I’m leaning towards Dubas at least trying to get a more established depth forward for the fourth line — but maybe the asking price for even that is too silly for him to stomach.

PROSPECT PORN

Hey, speaking of Leafs’ prospects in the NCAA, they had two of them in playoff action in their respective conferences last night.

First, Ryan Tverberg on UConn upset the regular season conference winner in Northeastern to advance to the Hockey East conference finals tomorrow night against Massachusetts. Tverberg had the insurance goal in the third period off this beauty play:

It was Tverberg’s team leading 14th goal and 32nd point of the season. If UConn wins tomorrow, I believe they guarantee a spot in the NCAA division 1 tournament.

Later in the evening, the forementioned Nick Abruzzese starred for Harvard in their 5-3 win over Clarkson. He had two primary assists and two goals, including the tying goal in the third period, and was on the ice late in the game during the empty netter. His goals were great, but this assist on the game winner was gorgeous.

Abruzzese has 32 points in 26 games for Harvard. The will play Quinnipiac tomorrow night for the ECAC conference finals.

Speaking of Matthew Knies, he and Mike Koster on Minnesota will play against the star-powered Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night in the Big 10 conference finals. Even if they don’t win, however, they are guaranteed a spot in the NCAA division 1 tournament due to how well they finished in the regular season.

LEAFS LINKS

With the Trade Deadline Near, Maple Leafs Focus on the 4th Line | by Katya, expanding more on the Friedman rumour.

This is the easy stuff for Kyle Dubas to sort out. But it should be sorted out. Some value has to come from that fourth line, and right now, there isn’t much beyond a parking spot for the second unit power play extras. The hard part is trying to figure out the defence, the goalie, the gaping hole for a top-six forward that’s still there even if we’ve just got used to it. And the harder part is deciding, maybe with his own job on the line, if the Leafs can be fixed by deadline deals at all

Report: Mark Giordano wants to play in Toronto | by Katya, expanding more on THIS rumour.

As a rental Giordano might hit the right price point, and the right skillset over Hampus Lindholm.

Lindholm’s current year results are not significantly different to Muzzin’s. So to pay big for him, you have to believe hard that’s all the team he’s on, and that decade he has on Giordano makes him worth more. I’m not convinced. To pay big for Giordano, you have to believe hard that his defence is worth the deterioration of the rest of his game. I’m not wholly convinced by that either.

We will, as always, see where this goes.

Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Preview: Forward, Defense, and Goalie Options – MLHS Podcast Episode 40 | by Kevin Papetti and Anthony Petrielli

Friedman: Maple Leafs have received calls for Engvall and Mikheyev, Dermott likely to be traded | more picking over Friedman rumours about the Leafs not already covered above, by TLN.

Maple Leafs Trade Deadline Preview: Kyle Dubas is on the clock | by Sportsnet

Leafs’ Matthews looks to shake off “long week” in return to lineup | by TSN

OTHER HOCKEY NEWS

The legend of Phil Kessel’s poker-playing casino nights in Pittsburgh: ‘The nice guy at the table’ | by The Athletic.

Kessel has played in the World Series of Poker every year since 2012. He doesn’t have many well-known passions in life, but among them are hockey, golf and poker.

And winning. He’s won some modest totals in the WSOP, eclipsing over $20,000 in his supplemental career.

Edmonton will reportedly host the 2022 World Juniors in August | by Cam Lewis at Daily Faceoff

Potentially brutal news for the Florida Panthers. They’ve been a top team, and the top scoring team, all year. Aaron Ekblad has been a big part of that as he’s had a great year, and they’re rumoured to be one of the two landing spots for Claude freaking Giroux. But last night, Ekblad looked to have a nasty and freak knee injury. It would be terrible luck for Ekblad, who has a history of terrible health luck.

Why is it always Ristolainen getting trolled in penalty boxes?

Have a great Saturday everyone!