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What Impact Could Mathew Knies Have On the Leafs Roster?

“He’s on a different level,” said teammate Brock Faber. “He’s such a hard worker and a leader on this team, guys look up to his work ethic and the way he plays the game.”

By the time Kyle Dubas put down his phone on March 3rd's trade deadline, he had added Centre’s Ryan O’Rielly and Noel Aciari, utility forward Sam Lafferty, and defenseman Luke Schenn, Jake Mcabe, and Erik Gustafsson. Leafs fans however, couldn't help but notice that the team, as good as they were, still seemed noticeably shallow at left wing. Specifically on the second line where Alex Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok have played musical chairs this season.

Enter Mathew Knies

It’s no question that he’s been the most highly anticipated Leaf's prospect since Nick Robertsons' early days with the organization. But with Robertson’s unfortunate injury luck, the Arizona native is looking to crack the Leaf's roster straight out of his university season.

He’s on a different level,” said teammate Brock Faber. “He’s such a hard worker and a leader on this team, guys look up to his work ethic and the way he plays the game.”

Knies is currently playing what will likely be his final season of NCAA hockey on a loaded Minnesota team alongside last year's third-overall pick Logan Cooley and 23rd-overall pick Jimmy Snuggerud. Where they’re looking to win the NCAA championship after a disappointing finish last year.

The 6’3, 210-pound left-winger is a force on the ice, recording 21 goals and 19 assists for 40 points in just 35 games with the Gophers this season. In addition to his high skill level, he’s also exactly what the Leafs need in terms of tone and physicality.

Often referred to as “Freight Train 89” on local broadcasts, Knies has a unique blend of size, power and skill. His most elite talent  is driving offense with his size, and gaining and retaining puck possession.

Watching his highlights immediately reveals his unique ability to strip defenders of the puck while on the attack. Once he gains possession, he turns his back to defenders and uses his large frame to protect the puck and open up scoring opportunities for his linemates.

Put him on a line with the likes of John Tavares, William Nylander, or Ryan O’Reilly, and the points are bound to pile up. 

His team at the University of Minnesota has made it to the Frozen Four after dominating the Big Ten regular season with a record of 26-8-1 and a +56 goal differential. The tournament will begin with the semi-finals taking place on April 7th, and the championship game on April 9th.

That means Knies could potentially join the Leafs to play in their final three regular-season games, which would all be played on the road in Florida, Tampa, and New York.

In an interview with Mark Masters of ESPN, Knies recently stated that he was “‘itching to join that group,” when considering the possibility of joining the Leafs lineup.

So what can he offer to this team? The Leafs are clearly one of the NHL’s best throughout this regular season. They currently sit at 4th place in the league with an impressive 40-18-8 record, +47 goal differential and a whopping 25% on the power play.

They don't, however, have any left wingers that could command the nickname, “Freight Train”.

A power forward with a knack for puck recovery, possession, and a downright nasty shot. It’s safe to say that Knies will at the very least get an opportunity to play higher up in the lineup towards the end of the regular season. Especially when considering the fact that superstars Auston Mathews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander will likely be sat out in the final games of the season before the playoffs.

He’s had a lot of powerplay time in Minnesota. If he performs well, Keefe may look to him on the second unit for an added shooting threat off the wall, or even a big body in front of the net. At 5v5, look to see him riding shotgun on the wing of Ryan O’Rielly on the Leafs third line while likely getting opportunities to play alongside John Tavares and William Nylander on the second.

Overall, Knies can bring size, speed, skill, and a fiery competitiveness to the Leafs lineup that could potentially be the difference in what will be an incredibly tight first round series with the Lightning.

David Felsbourg

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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