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A Toronto Maple Leafs fan’s guide to the NCAA men’s hockey championships

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Photo credit:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Ellis
11 months ago
It started with 62. Welcome to the Sweet 16.
After champions were crowned across the United States last week, the NCAA is inching closer to the Frozen Four, set for April in Tampa Bay. This weekend, four regional champions will be decided, with the winners moving on to the big stage a few weeks from now.
For Toronto Maple Leafs fans, it’s an excellent chance to get a look at the team’s future. Matthew Knies is the obviously hot-shot prospect many will be focused on, with the University of Minnesota entering the weekend as the top-ranked team.
If you plan on following the NCAA regional championships this weekend, we’ve got you covered from a Leafs fan’s perspective. For a more overarching look, check out this from Daily Faceoff. It’s a great time to follow prospects, so let’s break down which of Toronto’s affiliated players will be participating this weekend:

University of Minnesota

Who: Matthew Knies (RW), Mike Koster (D)
THIS is the team Leafs fans will be looking at the closest. The highest-ranked team in the country, Minnesota also possesses one of the best lines outside of the NHL with Jimmy Snuggerud, Logan Cooley and, of course, Matthew Knies. Knies is expected to turn pro once the season comes to a close, and many expect him to play a pivotal part right out of the gate.
I recommend tempering expectations. Even for his size, defensive play and ability to play with high-quality teammates, it’s still a lot of pressure to expect an NCAA player to excel in the NHL off the hop. Knies has good middle-six potential, and brings a lot that the Leafs could really use in the lineup. But it might not be immediate, and even just participating in practice and getting a sense of the pro lifestyle is valuable experience for someone his age.
But let’s focus on the task at hand. Minnesota’s top line has half of the team’s goals. They’d be a strong line in the NHL RIGHT NOW. The Golden Gophers’ success relies on that trio getting the job done at all ends, and Knies is a big reason why.
For Koster, the 21-year-old junior is having the best season of his career. He’s been a good setup man for Minnesota’s high-flying offense and is one of the best defensemen on the country’s strongest team. Drafted in the fifth round in 2019, Koster is looking like a decent value pick. He projects more as a third-pairing defenseman, and his 5-foot-9 frame limits his potential, but he moves the puck well, is a fluid skater and can be deceptive on the rush at speed.
Minnesota will play the bottom-seeded Canisius in the Fargo Regional on Thursday. If they win, they’ll play either St. Cloud State or Minnesota State for a shot at heading to Tampa Bay for the Frozen Four. Minnesota is the favorite to win it all this year, so look for them to keep rolling.

St. Cloud State University

Who: Veeti Miettinen (RW)
St. Cloud doesn’t have many notable prospects, but we’re more concerned about Toronto’s influence here, anways. The team has had its ups and downs but won the NCHC championship and is currently riding a pleasant high.
A big piece of the team has been Veeti Miettinen. Known as a quick, skilled winger, Miettinen has been one of SCS’s biggest scoring threats this season. He somehow managed to play 39 games without a single penalty, which is nearly unheard of at this level. But as a shooter and a passer, Miettinen can hang with the best of them. The 2020 sixth-rounder still has a long way to go if he’s going to make the pros, but it’s been a solid progression year for the Finnish forward.

Harvard University

Who: Joe Miller (C)
After losing 3-2 to Colgate in the ECAC final, Harvard is looking for revenge. They tend to play a high-flying offensive game similar to the Edmonton Oilers – outscoring their defensive issues at an impressive rate.
And one of Harvard’s most valuable forwards is Joe Miller, the man with the most generic name in Toronto’s system. He has made a big impact as a rookie at Harvard, sitting fifth in scoring with 13 goals and 28 points. The 5-foot-8 forward plays a versatile game based off great skating, strong puckhandling and good heads-up playmaking. He’s always fighting for every puck and has a solid release on his shot. He’s still a project-type prospect, but with everything on the line, let’s see if he can take his game up a notch.
Harvard enters the Bridgeport Regional as the No. 2 seed, with a slight edge over Ohio State in their initial meeting on Friday. If all goes well, Miller and Co. will face off against either Quinnipiac or Merrimack on Sunday for a shot at advancing to Tampa Bay.

Michigan Tech University

Who: Ryan O’Connell (D)
Michigan State will have its backs against the wall this week. It’s a team that relies heavily on good goaltending and an all-hands-on-deck approach. With that said, they’re still capable of beating just about anyone and if they manage to beat Penn State, that’ll likely mean a feisty final game against the University of Michigan.
More of a stay-at-home defender, Ryan O’Connell is looking to go out with a bang as a fifth-year college blueliner. He doesn’t shoot a ton, but he can shut you down and get in your face. Unfortunately, his ceiling isn’t that high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs elected to let his rights expire on August 15.

Full Leafs NCAA prospect schedule:

March 23:
St. Cloud St. (Miettinen)
vs. Minnesota St. – 5:00 PM ET
University of Minnesota vs. Canisius (Knies, Koster) – 9:00 PM ET
March 24:
Harvard (Miller)
vs. Ohio State – 2:00 PM ET
Penn St. vs. Michigan Tech (O’Connell) – 5:00 PM ET
March 25:
Fargo Regional (potentially Knies, Koster, Miettinen) – 6:30 PM ET
March 26:
Bridgeport Regional (potentially Miller) – 4:00 PM ET
Allentown Regional (potentially O’Connell) – 6:30 PM ET

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