The Toronto Maple Leafs second round pick in the 2021 draft, Matthew Knies, makes his PPP T25U25 debut at #10. When the Leafs first took Knies, I was a bit critical in the moment. I thought there was higher potential players available, or the potential to trade down and get two guys who had similar value as Knies.
I decided to watch his USHL games in his draft year and wrote this more thoroughly researched profile. I then watched all of his World Junior Summer Showcase games for Team USA’s potential World Junior Championship roster, and wrote an even more up to date mini-profile of my thoughts of his tournament performance.
Here’s a short summary of my thoughts on Knies as a prospect and a player. I like him the more I see him. In the initial profile, I note that he either had a concussion or COVID (or both) at the start of this year, and it really did seem to slow down his start while his team also got shut down a couple of times. But as the season went on he got much better, until he went on an absolutely tear to end the year. Then he went on another tear at the Summer Showcase tournament — in fact, he looked like one of the best players overall.
He’s big, but he has skill. He’s a better skater for a “big guy” than you typically see with younger players that his size, but that skating could still use some improvement. He can dangle, and he has a pretty wicked wrist shot. He’s a highly effective player on the cycle and on dump ins, using his combination of size and good enough skating to close on defensemen trying to retrieve the puck and just taking it from them. Once he has it, and he can turn his back on defenders, it’s almost impossible to get it off of him.
But what I like most about him is how he uses his combination of skills and physical size and strength. He is a good example of a phrase that Will Scouch likes to say: PTFG, or Play The Friggin’ Game. The general meaning is that there aren’t many frills with his game. He won’t try to make fancy dangles or spin-o-rama passes. While he has skill and will make some highlights, his game is a bit more simple and in the name of effectiveness and efficiency. Not that flash is inherently bad either, but there’s something to be said for a regular old meat and potatoes dinner now and then. Your whole menu doesn’t have to be deconstructed French-Japanese fusion dishes served on a wooden board instead of a plate.
Okay I may have lost the plot on my food metaphor. I might also be hungry and need to eat dinner. Hold please.
#LeafsForever Matthew Knies with the last second snipe to tie the game at 4! We're going to overtime. pic.twitter.com/YBMUsNUKA8— AleSTANdro Kirk (@brigstew86) July 30, 2021
How We Voted
Matthew Knies finishes in a tier with six other players, in the 11th to 6th range. He was narrowly ahead of Mikhail Abramov in that mix, but between the highest and lowest ranked players in this group the average ranking difference is only 2.12. Then between the 6th and 7th ranked player there’s a big jump of over 3.00 to the next player.
So you can consider Knies to be considered among the lower end of the third best ‘tier’ in our rankings. It’s a mix of higher end prospects, and older guys who haven’t quite established themselves as higher end NHLers.
That sounds about right to me. He’s a very freshly drafted pick, so he’s still pretty young. He had a big hot streak in his draft year, but overall it was a bit of a mixed bag. It might even be considered a bit of a disappointment compared to his pre-season considerations, since his point totals were virtually the same in his D-1 season as this draft year. If his early season struggles really was because of the issues with his health and COVID creating some false-starts with his season, the Leafs could have a minor steal.
The funny thing is, I tied for the lowest in my rank of him (10th) while others had him higher, but I may think more positively of him than most.
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But then, Knies does still come with some question marks. His skating, while good for a big guy and good overall, does still have some warts that could be ironed out. He could stand to become more explosive to get up to his top speed sooner, and more agile or maneuverable with making horizontal cuts. His skill, which is also pretty good, is not exactly high end. He can snipe the occasional wrist shot from medium-distance and he can pull off the occasional dangle or other high skill play, but he should not be mistaken for the likes of Nick Robertson (shot) or Mitch Marner and William Nylander (skill).
What will carry Knies to the NHL is the combination of pretty good skating and skill with his size. But that size also carries some question marks. Being big and skilled is a good combination for making the NHL, sometimes when you don’t necessarily deserve it that clearly. But being that big in junior makes it a lot easier. Your competition is much smaller and weaker, and not necessarily as skilled or as good at skating. It’s easier to dominate in junior when you have that advantage.
Here's a nice play by Matthew Knies (#19 blue) that almost resulted in a goal and did cause chaos in front of the Finland net. pic.twitter.com/urYLw2FNGn— AleSTANdro Kirk (@brigstew86) July 28, 2021
But at higher levels, the competition gets tougher. They get bigger, better, and faster. The inherent size advantage gets erased, and then it’s a question of if he has enough quality to his game outside of his size. I do think there is enough there, for what it’s worth, and the Leafs’ development staff can work with him (post-NCAA) to refine things like his skating and shot mechanics to get a bit more out of his other skills.
And it is interesting to have a prospect like Knies in the Leafs’ system, when they really don’t have anyone else like him currently. Most of them are smaller and have more flashy skill. I can see him being at least a nice complementary player in the NHL, not unlike Zach Hyman who Knies already gets compared to a lot. Knies likely doesn’t have the same level of skating and highly, highly efficient forechecking that Hyman does, but he may also be a more offensively skilled (dangles, shot) supporting winger.
Here’s what the others have to say:
Scouch: A player I didn’t have ranked [for the draft], but I was unaware of his health issues during the pandemic and was thereby a bit confused at seeing him picked where he went. Knies is a big, skilled power winger who carries pucks quite well through the neutral zone, dragging defenders cross-ice on entries, protecting pucks and making plays with a quick release if the time comes. I do think there were more traditional “Leafs-style” draft picks on the board in 2021, but Knies is a rock solid option with room to grow considering how physically limiting his season was.
Katya: Knies did an SDA trick — he didn’t show a stairstep increase in pointz as a junior. But he did it before he was drafted, and might be a tiny bit of a steal because of that. He wasn’t some disguised first rounder, but he’s likely worth the pick spent on him, and in a good NCAA program, he’s got a lot of room to grow. If there’s a player we’re all underranking out of unfamiliarity, it’s likely him.
Hardev: I’m interested to see how he develops. Katya is right, I don’t know what to expect right now, but judging by his draft position he has a ceiling as a fringe first line winger, most likely outcome is somewhere in the middle-six, or he doesn’t make it. I don’t know when my Leafs-Lightning article is coming out, but I always want the Leafs to swing big early whenever possible because you never know when you’re going to land a star. Knies isn’t likely to be that, but I don’t hate the pick just because it’s not what I would’ve done.
I’m also going to throw in this quote from a mini-profile that Kevin Papetti wrote about Knies, over at MLHS.
Knies is also quite skilled. While he’s labelled as a “dump and chase” player by some scouting outlets, it’s clear that he can pull off dekes with a high degree of difficulty and doesn’t limit himself to only making the simple plays. In one of the games I watched, he completed a no-look backhand pass in the neutral zone that gave his teammate plenty of space to gain the zone. He also regularly dances around opposing players by throwing the puck between their legs and skating right around them. His passing and creativity are certainly ahead of someone like Carl Grundstrom, who was also a power forward in Toronto’s prospect pool a few years back.
There is plenty of power in Knies’ wrist shot. He played on his non-one timer side on the outside of Tri-City’s 1-3-1 power play in the games that I watched last season. He can beat goalies from medium-danger scoring areas, and he’s not afraid to get to the net. His calling card is definitely his ability to win physical battles, though, as he throws his 6’3″ frame into his opponents and carries a low center of gravity. He excels in small spaces, so if he already has the puck in the corner, a defender is going to have a tough time getting it off of him.
Knies is set to join Minnesota in the NCAA next year, joining fellow-Leafs prospect Mike Koster. Minnesota has one of the strongest programs in the NCAA and are perennial contenders for the college championship, so he’ll be in good hands with their program. If his WJSS showing and glowing reviews from Team USA’s coaching is any indication, he’ll also get a role at the World Juniors this winter.
For a second round pick, we should expect him to have a similar season as other slightly older freshmen taken in the same area of the draft. Here are some recent examples:
- Brendan Brisson, late 1st round = 21 points in 24 games
- John Beecher, late 1st round = 31 points in 31 games
- Shane Pinto, 2nd round = 28 points in 33 games
- Bobby Brink, 2nd round pick = 24 points in 28 games
- Thomas Bordeleau, 2nd round pick = 30 points in 24 games
- Luke Tuch, 2nd round pick = 11 points in 16 games
- Vladislav Firstov, 2nd round pick = 23 points in 34 games
- Ty Smilanic, 3rd round pick = 21 points in 29 games
- Landon Slaggert, 3rd round pick = 22 points in 25 games
- John Farinacci, 3rd round pick = 22 points in 31 games
There are some others who had much worse seasons, but I wanted to include the good options to give a baseline of what to expect. A good season for Knies will look something like flirting with a point per game. An excellent season, where he does look like a steal, will be a point per game or better.
But, points are incredibly noisy. The reason why you shouldn’t expect even a point per game is because freshmen don’t often get big minutes on top lines and top powerplay roles. Thomas Bordeleau looks like a big exception, but the Michigan team he joined was heavy on younger, highly skilled players like Matt Beniers, Brendan Brisson, Kent Johnson, and John Beecher who were all as young or younger than he was — and they all were the top scoring forwards for Michigan by far.
Knies won’t likely get that. They had six forwards who generated most of their points, and half of them are returning. Then there’s an influx of younger guys like Knies and other picks from his draft: Tristan Broz (58th overall, one pick after Knies) and Chaz Lucius (18th overall). Knies is going to be competing with them, and with the older returnees to Minnesota, for total and powerplay ice time. He’ll likely play up and down the lineup a bit, depending on injuries and hot streaks. But I can see him getting more of those minutes over some of his other teammates, precisely because he has a set of skills and can play a role that others may not be able to. His size means he won’t get knocked around like other, smaller freshmen (e.g., Miettinen) so he can hold his own in all situations physically. And as an older draft pick (2002 birthday), he’s not as young either.
Just don’t expect him to lead his team in scoring, or pay too much attention to his point totals. If he starts playing a bigger role for the team as the season winds on, and has a solid WJC showing, that’s a good start to his post-draft career.
What do you think our ranking of Matthew Knies?
This poll is closed
Fair, it’s about where I had him
Way too low, this kid is going to be a stud
Way too high, we know almost nothing about him at this point