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Is Matthew Knies Ready for a Jump to the NHL?

Matthew Knies has had a fantastic freshman season with the University of Minnesota and has been linked to potentially turning pro with the Toronto Maple Leafs sooner rather than later. Does it make sense to do so?
Matthew Knies

The Toronto Maple Leafs went into last year’s NHL draft with its highest pick being at 57th overall, in the latter half of the second round. 

They came away with Matthew Knies, a University of Minnesota commit coming out of the USHL. With his freshman season going well, and a surprise stint with the American Olympic team, as well, the 2021-22 season couldn’t have gone better for the Leafs prospect.

Now, we have Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet joining in on the discussion, saying Knies could take the step from college to the NHL at the end of the season. If that happens, questions will arise.

Is Knies ready for the NHL? Is this a backup plan if a trade doesn’t come to fruition? What does this mean for the Leafs’ veteran depth squad?

Is Knies ready? The short answer: yes and no. He's not ready to play the role that Kyle Dubas envisioned when he was drafted. On draft day, you could project Knies to be a middle-six power forward with good hands and the ability to finish. He protects the puck quite effectively, gets to the middle of the offensive zone and generates high-danger chances consistently. Knies' high-end puck skill isn’t flashy by any means, but it is efficient and highly translatable.

Knies' development wouldn't hurt from playing college for another year, but the competition in the AHL could be beneficial.

While the offensive side of things likely isn’t quite NHL ready just yet, the habits he has as a player that don’t always add up on the scoresheet do seem to be capable of helping out in a fourth-line role. That physicality and motor will allow him to play on the bottom line. If he brings some secondary scoring in any way, it’s icing on the cake.

What does this mean for the veterans? Think Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Kyle Clifford and Pierre Engvall.

Spezza and Engvall get a leg up for their ability to play in the middle. Each brings different dynamics and skills to the table. Engvall has been a member of the penalty kill at times; Spezza has been on the second power-play unit. Neither of them are truly integral members of the units though. Does coach Sheldon Keefe opt to go with the veteran Spezza or look to keep some extra speed in Engvall? There is also the option of moving one to the wing.

With Clifford and Simmonds bringing a physical presence on the fourth line, could their role be the one filled by Knies? It seems like the most logical fit. Knies can crash and bang just as Simmonds and Clifford do but provide a bit more speed. Even though Knies’ offensive touch is still a bit underdeveloped, he should be able to provide equal or greater value than both Simmonds and Clifford in that role as well. The plan may very well be to have Knies join the bottom line with Spezza and Evgvall and ultimately be a secret weapon come playoff time with their sneaky skill.

Is this a backup plan if they don’t bring any offensive help at the deadline? That’s debatable. If the Leafs bring in a physical power forward, Knies would likely be pushed out. If they fill the role on the second line wing externally, it could mean Kase or Kerfoot move down the lineup and the fourth line role is filled by someone internally. While it may not be a true backup plan, it does seem like an option that the team is considering to an extent.

Is Matthew Knies ready for the NHL? He would certainly fill a role on the fourth line and be able to inject some youthful energy into the bottom-six while not being overly reliant on playing a skill game. He brings a physical element that the Leafs lack. Knies could very well be a secret weapon heading towards the post-season.

The problem is that despite the fit, the opportunity, and his impressive development less than a year out from his draft day, the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to contend for a Stanley Cup. How willing are the Leafs to rely on a fresh-faced rookie playing a role, albeit a depth role, in the playoffs? 

That's the three-year entry-level contract question.

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