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Prospect Report: Checking in on five baby Leafs from the weekend

I watched and wrote about Matt Knies, Mike Koster, Veeti Miettinen, Joe Miller and Ty Voit.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

Here’s a look at five recent Maple Leafs draft picks, and how they have performed as they start their seasons.

Matthew Knies

The stat line for Matthew Knies through the two game series this weekend against the 2nd ranked St. Cloud State doesn’t necessarily look beyond ordinary: 0 goals, 1 assist, -1, 5 shots on net. However, he was definitely a force from what I saw. He played with a fellow freshman, Tristan Broz (2nd round pick by Pittsburgh) and a third-year center. They played on the fourth or third or second line, depending on whose pre-game lineup tweet you saw. In reality, everyone but the top line seemed to get pretty even playing time. He also got some powerplay time, and a bit on the penalty kill I believe. He was used late in both games, when they were trailing by a goal, winning by a goal, or tied.

Offensively, Knies was a force on transition and on the forecheck. He was the main guy on the line to carry the puck into and through the neutral zone, and he made the kind of dump and chase plays that make him stand out with his combination of size and speed. He’s not the best skater you’ll see, but his straight line top speed can make him imposing for defenders trying to slow him down, and some defenders just straight up don’t want anything to do with having him bearing down on them in the corner.

However, it’s even more noteworthy that he also made some nice passes to streaking teammates. That level of passing surprised me, as it’s certainly not his calling card as a power forward-type prospect.

These transitions and forechecking is where he stood out, but his offensive-zone game was also good — just not with the same frequency. He was just as imposing, relentless and physical, but in tight spaces it seemed easier for him to wind up away from the play and unable to have as much of an impact. It didn’t help that he mainly played in front of the net, and St. Cloud’s defense was pretty effective at blocking passes and shots from the perimeter so it rarely got to him. When he was most effective is either a) when the puck DID get through to him, b) when he wound up away from the net, chasing down loose pucks or harassing the other team, or c) playing the cycle game, which his line didn’t do that often.

Here was a good chance he had hopping off the bench.

And here is his hustle and harassment of the puck carrier to keep their OZ shift alive, and directly led to a goal. He may have only gotten a secondary assist, but it was no fluke. He earned all of it.

Of all the prospects I watched this weekend, Knies definitely stood out the most.

Mike Koster

Knies’ teammate, second year defenseman Mike Koster, had an... okay weekend. He had no points or shots on net, but was a +2 if that kind of thing floats your boat. He played on Minnesota’s second pair both games, and got a good deal of powerplay time. While I would say he did not look like a liability on the defensive side of the puck, I would describe his defense as pretty quiet and unnoticeable. He did not make any stellar plays without the puck. He was simply, there.

He did make some nice and simple plays on transition to pass the puck up the ice, but was not something who made stretch passes or carried it into the offensive zone by himself. With the puck and in the offensive zone is definitely where he had some glitter to his game. He was mobile without the puck, sneaking down low in case he could get a pass into the slot, or moving around to make himself a better option and keep the puck cycling around. With the puck, he could pull off a bit of magic like this:

He’s a guy I can see being fun in the AHL, sort of like a Mac Hollowell. I’m not sure I see an NHLer there. His offense isn’t so good that it would carry him to the NHL on its own, but his two-way game isn’t at that level either. He’s more of a smaller, mobile and puck moving defenseman who helps drive play and can quarterback a PP2.

Veeti Miettinen

I am a big fan of Miettinen. I was the highest on him among the masthead in our recent T25U25 series, ranking him 12th on my list. So it pains me to say that for almost the entire two game series this weekend, I was pretty disappointed in what I saw. When I watched him last year, which was a small handful of games, he was pretty dynamic. He may have stretches of being a bit invisible, but he would dart through the neutral zone with the puck, snap off some hard passes (though I would never call him an elite playmaker), and would zip around the offensive zone looking for a pass to unleash his hard wrist shot. Towards the end of the year, as they entered the playoffs, Miettinen took a hard knee-on-knee hit that knocked him out of the first playoff game, and while he returned for their next game he didn’t look the same.

I would say that in these two games, he looked more like that. He had some shots, but few looked that dangerous. He wasn’t a presence through the neutral zone, his passes were inaccurate and sloppy, and he turned the puck over a lot. And while I would never expect him to be Mark Stone on defense, he would just glide through the ice not really challenging or guarding anyone or affecting play at any time.

But then it got to the third period of the final game, when St. Cloud was trailing Minnesota 3-2. Suddenly he came alive, and he looked like he did earlier in the season last year. He was hitting his passes, carrying the puck with confidence, and getting his shots off from more dangerous areas that made me “ooh” out loud with how it sounded hitting the goalie’s pads.

He had the primary assist on St. Cloud’s tying assist on the powerplay, which was a great exercise in combining the threat of his shot — a legitimate weapon — with some deception to fire a hard pass/fake shot designed as a high tip. This is something we’ve seen the Leafs try a lot this year, and in years past on the powerplay.

And late in the third period he almost set up the winning goal. As he took a pass on an odd-man rush, you can see all the other team’s defenders close on him aggressively, likely to make sure he couldn’t get his dangerous shot off. Instead of forcing it, he slows a bit and makes a nice, simple pass to a streaking teammate who was left open as a result of the other team converging on him. It wasn’t a fancy, high skill pass, but it was a smart decision in that situation and it almost paid off.

I didn’t see Miettinen’s previous two games, where he had a lot more in the way of points and shots, and by all accounts looked more dangerous. But I’m hoping that the one and two-thirds games I saw of his over the weekend was more of an aberration compared to how he looked in the third period of the second game.

Joe Miller

Miller may be one of those prospects the Leafs drafted in 2020 that many Leafs fans forget. He was one several prospects taken in the later rounds, but never got the same kind of fan interest as, say, Veeti Miettinen. That’s likely because he was drafted out of US high school, so highlights of him were non-existent. He also didn’t have record setting goals, like Miettinen had in Finnish junior.

In his D+1 season, Miller joined a stacked Chicago Steel squad that kept more players than usual thanks to the pandemic. He played mostly as a 3rd line depth center/winger, and he also missed a chunk of time in the middle of the year due to an injury. His final season totals of 18 points in 40 games does not look inspiring for a drafted prospect.

However, Miller had two things going for him. First, as a September 15th birthday, he was literally the youngest player in the 2020 draft. He missed being eligible for the 2021 draft by less than a full day. So while 18 points in 40 USHL games is pretty bad for a D+1 prospect, it would be just meh for a D-1 player.

Second, this year he has been given a much bigger role. Most of Chicago’s top players from last year moved on to the NCAA, junior, or other USHL teams. He has played as a winger on the top two lines all year, and is being used on both the powerplay and on their top penalty kill unit — in fact, his one goal so far this year was short-handed. So far the extra ice time, special teams roles, and better teammates has helped him improve across the board. He has 5 points in 8 games, and more than doubled his shot rate from 1.15 to 2.63.

This may still not be in the elite category, but what I have seen from his games now he works well as a supporting, play-making winger. He’s gelled well with Adam Fantilli, who will be a top prospect in the 2023 NHL draft.

While Miller never showed a lot of flash, he did make a lot of smaller plays that helped his team — mostly on transitions, and in the offensive zone. Despite his use on the PK I would not characterize him as a defensive-forward. Offensively, he combines good skating, good puck handling, and good passing to get them through the layers of defense and into the offensive zone. Most importantly, he can make those plays in tight spaces and under pressure.

Here’s an example. He takes a pass into the neutral zone with two defenders closing on him, and makes a simple chip pass to a streaking winger for the easy zone entry and a decent scoring chance.

Here he takes a pass in the defensive zone, with three opponents around him. He uses a bit of deception and leans around the defender in front of him to hit his winger for the exit.

And here’s a good example of his passing and vision. Miller is on the far boards. He takes a pass from #7 in white as he enters the zone. He takes it off the boards, then makes a pretty perfect pass back to #7 past two defensemen for a good redirect chance in front.

Eventually, these little plays through transition helped him get a point. He takes a pass in the neutral zone, and as he hits the blueline hits a streaking forward that was left unguarded for the easy entry and shot in the slot.

This kind of give and go is something Miller does well. He is good at spotting a teammate who can use speed to beat a defender, or who winds up slipping unnoticed into an unguarded area. Then, he can make the pass to the right area to hit them in stride. It’s his main, standout skill. Otherwise he is a good skater, has a decent shot, and good offensive instincts overall. He’s in the same boat as Koster for me. He has some nice skills, none of them are necessarily high-end and his total package of skills is not yet at a point where I see him as an NHLer.

But next year he’s committed to Minnesota in the NCAA, so he can join other Leafs’ prospects in Matt Knies and Mike Koster.

Ty Voit

Ty Voit was, unfortunately, really frustrating to watch, and it has nothing to do with his play. Sarnia only had one game this weekend, and their jersey was white. With light gold numbers. Imagine trying to be able to see numbers or nameplates on even a slightly pixelated stream. Even on an HD stream it’s not easy to see when they’re skating around at top speed and colliding with each other and the other team! Here’s a link to a video on Twitter someone took of them. That’s about how easy it was for me to watch on the streams.

Anyways, about Voit himself. He fits the stereotype of the small, zippy winger. He is a quick and agile skater, so he can be elusive and hard to check. He is a wizard with the puck, and can make dekes and avoid defender sticks in tight spaces. He is also a good playmaker, at least at Joe Miller’s level and probably better. I want to see him more to see how consistently he can pull off high difficulty passes.

He fits a similar mold as Mitch Marner and Joe Miller in this sense, and as far as quality he’s between them and much closer to Miller than Marner.

Here’s a good example of his skating and creativity in close. He picks up a rebound and shows good patience to hold it, skate around the scrambling goalie and defense until he has a bigger opening to shoot through.

And here’s his assist. He is used on Sarnia’s penalty kill for the same sort of reason as Marner: speed, stickwork, and the threat of generating scoring chances the other way.

He had a good chance to win the game in overtime too. He did a good job positioning himself skating backwards so he had an easier time on his off-wing to get a quick and strong shot off. It was a good shot, but his teammate both made the pass pretty obvious and didn’t get it to Voit that quickly. If Voit got it higher with a perfect top corner snap shot, he may have still got it. But shooting is not one of his elite skills.

This was the first game of Voit’s I watched. The jersey issue made it... annoying, so I’m planning on catching more of his games coming up where Sarnia uses their other jerseys so I can read their fucking numbers.

A caveat to the poll below. I can’t watch European prospects in Russia, Finland or Sweden as easily as I can for the prospects based in North America. I will do my best, and get what gifs that I can, but if you want more gifs and more in depth writing that would have to be confined to North American guys.

Poll

Which new Leafs prospects should I watch and report on next?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Kalle Loponen
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    Mikko Kokkonen
    (16 votes)
  • 9%
    Ryan Tverberg
    (37 votes)
  • 13%
    William Villeneuve
    (52 votes)
  • 44%
    Topi Niemela
    (168 votes)
  • 10%
    Roni Hirvonen
    (38 votes)
  • 10%
    Rodion Amirov (if possible, he’s hurt now)
    (38 votes)
  • 6%
    Pontus Holmberg
    (23 votes)
378 votes total Vote Now