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How Will the Leafs Utilize Matthew Knies this Season?

With all the offseason acquisitions the Leafs have made, where does Knies fit in?

There’s really no debate that Mattew Knies is the most exciting Leafs prospect to come around in recent years. After Nick Robertson ran into some unfortunate injuries, Knies has quickly taken his place in the spotlight.

Sheldon Keefe and the entire Leafs organization seemed eager to get him into the lineup after his university team was eliminated from the Frozen Four last season, and Knies was able to play in just three regular-season games before the start of the playoffs.

Knies played well in those games, so well in fact that he earned a spot on the Leafs third line alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari in game two after an embarrassing loss in the series opener.

Knies ended up playing in seven playoff games last postseason before suffering a concussion in game two against the Panthers and scored a goal and three assists before the injury.

He’s a lock to make the Leafs out of training camp but with the renewed roster, where will he fit among the forward group?

Knies addressed his position in the Leafs lineup last week.

I want to play with the big players, I want to play with the big club and I’m just going to work my best to play there,

Knies currently plays right-wing on the top line with Fraser Minten at centre and a revolving door of prospects on the left. He’s shown with his size and strength that he’s ready for the NHL, but where to put him?

I wrote last season that the Leafs needed a player like Knies, citing his university nickname. “Freight Train 89” as an indicator of the unique skillset he can bring to the lineup.

At that point, the Leafs were lacking in size upfront and had a relatively soft playing style when payers like Noel Acciari were on the bench. It was because of this that Knies could break into the top six relying on his size and the tenacity of a wrecking ball in the offensive zone.

After the addition of Ryan Reaves, Max Domi, and Tyler Bertuzzi, it would seem that the Leafs forward group has gotten much stronger and more physical since last season, pushing Knies further down the depth chart.

To start the season, assuming the Leafs have a healthy lineup, I could certainly see Domi or Bertuzzi getting the nod for top-line winger alongside Matthews and Marner due to simple seniority, pushing Knies to the third line to play with David Kampf and Calle Jarnkrok. But make no mistake, if Knies has a strong preseason, he could very well see himself standing at centre ice for the national anthem on opening night October 11th.

Dave Felsbourg

Sunday, September 17, 2023

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