Knies check-in, Niemelä & Hirvonen watch, Minten on fire: Leafs Prospect Roundup
Photo credit:Matt Krohn/Gophersports.com
By Nick Richard8 days ago
The home stretch of the NHL regular season is upon us, and that means that prospects in other leagues around the world are also wrapping up their seasons. The most notable of those prospects for Leafs fans is undoubtedly Matthew Knies, who is winding down his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota.
Knies and his Gophers teammates earned a first-round bye in the BIG10 tournament after finishing first in the conference, but they were back in action this past weekend in a semifinal matchup against Michigan State. Things started slowly for Minnesota as they worked to get their legs under them after so much time off, but they walked away with a tidy win in Saturday’s single-elimination game against the Spartans, advancing to the BIG10 Championship game against the Michigan Wolverines for the second consecutive year.
Down 1-0 in the opening frame, the Gophers’ powerplay got to work with Knies setting up Jaxon Nelson on the doorstep to tie the game. Minnesota never looked back from there, and Michigan State had no answer as the Gophers piled up five unanswered goals to come away with the victory. Fellow Leafs prospect Mike Koster also notched a pair of assists in Saturday’s semifinal.
The Gophers will now look to avenge last season’s loss in the conference championship against the Michigan squad that beat them last time around. The difference this year is that Minnesota is the favorite after Michigan saw many of their top players turn pro at the end of last season – something that Leafs fans are hoping to see Knies do in the next few weeks.
Regardless of the outcome of next weekend’s conference championship game, Minnesota will take part in the NCAA Tournament, which is set to get underway on March 23rd. As the #1 ranked team in the country, they are expected to make a deep run, and they are likely to be one of the Frozen Four finalists. The Frozen Four is scheduled to take place from April 6th to April 8th, meaning there is a chance that the Leafs could have just three regular season games remaining by the time Knies is able to sign his entry level contract and join the team.
A conference title and NCAA Championship would be a nice way for Knies to close out another impressive season and perhaps his NCAA career. He has earned praise for his play all season and is one of three finalists for the BIG10’s Player of the Year Award, and he is currently the leading vote-getter for the fan-voted Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey.
There is little left for Knies to accomplish at the collegiate level, and closing out the season with an NCAA Championship would serve as a great jumping-off point to his pro career. We won’t have to wait much longer to see if he is ready to make that jump.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool
- While he isn’t technically a prospect at the ripe old age of 26, Bobby McMann continues to show that he is worthy of another look in the NHL. Not only did he return to the Marlies’ lineup on Sunday after missing their last five games with an injury, but he returned with a vengeance. McMann tallied a hat trick in a 6-3 win over Rochester, giving him a ridiculous 18 goals in his last 17 games and 21 goals in 29 games for the season. The undrafted free agent signing played well in his first taste of NHL action earlier this season but was unable to find his way onto the scoresheet, despite doing plenty to generate chances for himself and his linemates. With improved depth in the Leafs’ bottom-six, those chances could turn into real production should McMann find his way back onto the NHL roster in the next couple of weeks.
- The Liiga regular season came to a close over the weekend, with both Topi Niemelä and Roni Hirvonen’s respective clubs earning playoff berths. Hirvonen and HIFK actually pulled ahead of Niemelä and Kärpät into sixth place on the final day of the regular season, knocking them into a wild card spot where they will face KooKoo in a best-of-three series. HIFK secured a bye for the wild card round, and they will take on Lukko in a best-of-seven quarterfinal series. With both players already under contract with the Leafs, we are now officially on Niemelä/Hirvonen watch. Depending on how far their clubs are able to go in the Liiga playoffs, they could join the Marlies to begin their North American careers in the next few weeks.
- The Kamloops Blazers are an absolute wagon, with 19 wins in their last 21 games, and Leafs prospect Fraser Minten has played a key role in their success as of late, despite being slotted lower in the lineup. Recent acquisitions have forced Minten down to the third line, but he has been on fire recently, currently riding a six-game point streak with four goals and seven assists in that span. Minten has been held without a point just twice in his last fourteen games, and he is now up to 30 goals and 34 assists in 52 games for one of the WHL’s best teams.
- Pontus Holmberg has been productive for the Marlies as of late, currently riding a six-game point streak that was interrupted only by a one-game call-up to the Leafs last week. Over his last six games with the Marlies, he has notched five goals and two assists to bring him to 15 points in 25 AHL games so far this season.
- Ty Voit drew closer to the 100-point milestone this past week, extending his point streak to four games with a three-point outing against Kitchener on Sunday. The Leafs’ 2021 fifth-rounder has tallied four goals and 12 assists in his last 10 games, bringing him to 19 goals and 75 assists in 61 games – good for second in the OHL scoring race. Depending on how far Sarnia goes in the postseason, Voit is another candidate to join the Marlies late in the season, but he isn’t likely to see significant action at the pro level until next fall.
- Ryan Tverberg and the UConn Huskies had their season come to an end over the weekend as they were eliminated from the Hockey East Tournament in a thrilling 2-1 defeat at the hands of UMass Lowell. Tverberg was held off the scoresheet in the final game of the season but finished with team-high 15 goals to go along with 15 assists over 35 games in what could be his final season of college hockey. Now through his junior season, he is a candidate to turn pro if the Leafs think he is ready. With just one available NHL contract slot remaining for this season and the potential of Matthew Knies joining the Leafs in the coming weeks, Tverberg could sign an amateur tryout agreement to close out the season with the Marlies before signing his entry level contract with the Leafs in the offseason.
- Joseph Woll continued his impressive season with pair of strong outings for the Marlies last week. He stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 3-1 win over Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday before stopping 21 of 23 in an overtime win against Hartford on Saturday. Woll is now 16-1-0 with a 2.22 GAA and .933 SV% with the Marlies this season while providing the Leafs with solid play in limited action.
- Veeti Miettinen and his St. Cloud State teammates advanced to the NCHC semifinals, closing out their best-of-three series against Minnesota Duluth with a 3-1 win on Sunday night. Miettinen tallied his first point of the series with an assist in Sunday’s clincher, raising his season totals to 10 goals and 21 assists in 37 games.
- Dennis Hildeby had a stellar outing for Färjestad on Thursday, stopping all 42 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over Frölunda. It was his third shutout of the season, bringing him to a 2.26 GAA and a .918 SV% in 21 games this season. Färjestad will take on that same Frölunda club in the first round of the SHL playoffs, starting later this week, but Hildeby is likely to serve in a backup role.
- Dmitry Ovchinnikov’s season also came to an end this past week as Sibir was eliminated in five games by Omsk in the first round of the KHL playoffs. It was a bit of a tough year for the Leafs’ 2020 fifth-round pick as he played in mostly a depth role, notching five goals and eight assists in 68 games. Ovchinnikov is under contract with the Leafs and was playing on loan to Sibir, but he may not return to North America this season.
- Harvard took down Princeton in a two-game sweep in the quarterfinal round of the ECAC playoffs, and Leafs prospect Joe Miller extended his point streak to five games with an assist in each outing. Miller is certainly a long-term project, but he has put together a strong freshman season, now with 13 goals and 13 assists in 30 games as the Crimson get set for next weekend’s ECAC semifinals.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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