With the 57th overall pick in the NHL entry draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs have selected winger Matthew Knies.
Knies, a 6’3” LW for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, had 42 points in 44 GP last season. Knies is an Arizona native; his family is Slovakian and he has citizenship of both countries. A concussion slowed his start to this season, but by his own account Knies felt better as he went.
He was ranked 75th overall by our former editor Scott Wheeler, now with The Athletic:
After an excellent rookie season in the USHL a year ago thrust Knies into the top-50 conversation at the start of the year, he had a good follow-up season as one of Tri-City’s best players (he followed up a 45 points in 44 games season with 46 points in 47 games) this year but left some scouts wanting a little more out of his progression. Knies, who is on the older side of this draft class (Oct. 17, 2002 birthday), plays an honest pro-style game with a lot of B and B-plus tools to fall back on. He’s going to be a good college player at the University of Minnesota right away and I wouldn’t bet against him becoming a good pro one (even if that tops out as more of a complementary piece than a driver), either. He’s comfortable in control, he’s got great touch and underrated goal-scoring instincts around the net. He’s always working to keep himself in the play off of the puck, and he understands how to play off of crowds to facilitate.
Scott’s colleague at The Athletic, Corey Pronman, was higher on Knies, putting him 31st on his list:
31.Matthew Knies, LW, Tri-City-USHL
Oct. 17, 2002 | 6-foot-3 | 210 pounds
Puck Skills: Average
Hockey Sense: Below-average
Knies had a great underage season but his draft season was a struggle to produce as much offense as expected. Despite his mediocre point totals (42 points in 44 games) I still see a very talented player and he was an important player for a top USHL team in all situations. I see a 6-foot-3 forward with great hands who can beat defenders clean with skill. I debated his sense being listed as “average” or “below-average.” I’ve seen enough plays from him, particularly as an underage, to say he can see the ice, but this past season made me question his sense at times and his puck decisions. His game lacks finish as well, although he went on a big goal scoring tear to end the season. Knies works hard on the ice, winning a lot of battles, killing penalties and taking pucks to the net. His skating isn’t the best and will lack the ability to separate at the NHL level. In a sentence, Knies projects as an NHL two-way middle-six winger.
HockeyProspect.com’s Black Book for this draft was very favourable about Knies, ranking him 13th (!):
What makes Knies an A rated prospect for us, is that he can blend his frame, on top of his skillset, with an exceptional level of deception. The moniker or term “power forward” still has the original association of barreling down a wing, but that’s how Knies usually operates. He’s not a Vasili Podkolzin or Josh Anderson type of power forward. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely respect and appreciate the original style of power forwards, but we also have a ton of time for the technical, hybrid power forward game that Knies is developing. When he’s on the rush, he’s not looking to just blow by his opponents all the time, though towards the end of the season he was doing that in spurts too. Often, he was suddenly switching his tempo, making exaggerated spinning postural moves, while simultaneously looking off his teammates before threading well executed passes through layered traffic, after drawing in multiple opponents, as an example. He’s one of the rarest players you can find, in the sense that he can beat the first layer with his speed, frame and range. He can then beat the second layer with his exceptional hands and beat the third layer by using his deception and dual threat attributes. He has it all, but it took him time.
Elite Prospects had some nice things to say about Matthew:
Matthew Knies will likely go higher than this ranking, and that won’t necessarily be a bad thing for whichever team makes that investment. Blending skill with a grinder’s mentality, he plays a near-pro-ready game. The way Knies establishes body positioning drives his value in every dimension of the game. He tries to be first on every puck at all costs, getting his leg in front of his opponent’s, then coming across their body with his hips to seal off the defender. That skill makes him a puck protection machine, where he consistently gets pressure on his back, encourages the reach-in, then cuts back into space with a punch turn and looks to bulldoze his way inside. Projectable NHL skating depth (knees over toes, hips engaged, chest up) and puck control allow him to beat, and occasionally deceive, mobile and confident defenders along the boards. That skill also makes Knies a puck retrieval machine, which he leverages by playing a chip-and-chase game. Or, more specifically, a place-and-chase game, as he intentionally puts the puck into areas where the nearest defender will be forced to pivot, then he establishes body positioning and gets to work. Heavy shoulders and a powerful core allow him to rip away possession even when body positioning isn’t an option, and his motor ensures that he always has a chance on the forecheck.
Public prospect analyst Mitch Brown:
Matthew Knies is an interesting pick for TOR. Banking on the skating posture, handling form, off-puck instincts to translate into better offence at that next level. Right now, dump-and-chase player w/ ability to create off retrievals. One of the best puck protectors in the class. pic.twitter.com/cTHkYAs2qO— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) July 24, 2021
Knies has been selected to Team Blue for the USA and the World Junior Summer Showcase, on right now. His first game is tomorrow. Unlike past years where Canada attended, the split USA teams will not join up and require cuts. He should play out the full event, which is designed to select the teams for the WJC.
Knies feels a little different from previous Kyle Dubas picks. We’re more used to Dubas picking players considered to have great hockey sense who weren’t especially big. Knies, by contrast, is already a towering presence and more renowned for intensity and compete.
This was Toronto’s first selection in the draft, as they gave up their first-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in last season’s trade for Nick Foligno. There may be somewhat more pressure on this pick than your typical late second-rounder, but that’s the Toronto market for you.
If you’d like some footage of Knies plying his trade, here’s a video for you:
Welcome to the Leafs, Matthew!
Kyle Dubas on Matthew Knies and the Leafs' mindset heading into the draft with only three picks pic.twitter.com/zW1kyKuVRm— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) July 24, 2021