Eyes on Knies, Grebyonkin’s great season, Tverberg on the board: Leafs Prospect Roundup
Photo credit:Matt Krohn/Gophersports.com
By Nick Richard6 months ago
We are now less than a week away from the NHL trade deadline, and with the Leafs having already taken their big swing with the Ryan O’Reilly trade, the focus has shifted from whether or not top prospect Matthew Knies could be on the move to if and when he’s going to sign with Toronto.
Knies and the Gophers wrapped up their regular season schedule with a weekend set against #3 Ohio State. After a relatively quiet one-assist showing in Friday’s win, he was in the middle of everything on Saturday.
Things didn’t start off so great as Knies was assessed a five-minute major for checking to the head in the first period, and linemate Jimmy Snuggerud earned a five-minute major of his own. The infractions allowed Ohio State to get out to a two-goal lead early in the second, but Knies and his linemates made amends and then some.
After Sabres prospect Aaron Huglen brought the Gophers within one, Minnesota’s top trio got to work and quickly tied the game. Logan Cooley made a heads-up play in the neutral zone to spring Snuggerud for a clean entry down the right wing, and sensing an opportunity, Knies darted past his man to the far post, arriving at the perfect time to bury the rebound created by Snuggerud.
Then, in the waning moments of the second period, Minnesota’s top line put them out front for good. After narrowly missing a chance in tight off a feed from Snuggerud, Knies corralled the rebound and made a nice cutback down low to find Huglen alone in the slot. After Huglen’s chance missed and he left the ice for Cooley, the Gophers got to work on the forecheck, with Knies eventually setting up Cooley with a beautiful drop pass in close.
When all was said and done on Saturday night, Knies had filled the boxscore with a goal, an assist, eight shots on goal, and seven minutes in penalties. He finished off the regular season schedule with 21 goals and 18 assists in 34 games, and will now look to lead the Gophers to a Big Ten Championship after he and his teammates enjoy a bye week as the number one seed.
From there, Knies and the rest of the Gophers will be gunning for a berth in the Frozen Four and a shot at the national title. They came up just short a year ago and will be looking to go the distance this time around, finishing the season as the #1 ranked team in the nation. If the Gophers are able to reach their goal and compete in the national title game, Knies would be free to sign with the Leafs no earlier than April 8th. The Leafs would have just three regular season games remaining at that point, and even if Knies signs and is able to get into all three of those games, it doesn’t provide much runway for him to get acclimated to the pro game or for head coach Sheldon Keefe to develop confidence in making him a regular part of the playoff lineup.
Expecting him to step in and make an immediate impact for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations is a big ask. Realistically, getting him signed and having him gain some experience around his new team to close out the season would be a win for the Leafs. Anything beyond that this season would be a bonus, but with his physical makeup and offensive toolkit, it isn’t a stretch to imagine him getting into the Leafs’ bottom-six at some point during the postseason either.
Whether Knies decides to turn pro this season or return for his junior season at Minnesota remains to be seen, but Leafs fans will surely be paying close attention to the Gophers’ pursuit of a national title over the next few weeks.
In the meantime, let’s catch up with the rest of the Leafs’ prospect pool.
- Knies wasn’t the only Leafs prospect to have a big weekend for the Gophers. 2019 fifth-rounder Mike Koster has been hot as of late and put together a career-night on Friday with two goals and two assists in what was his 100th NCAA game. For the season, he has registered five goals and 18 assists in 34 games to finish second in scoring among Gophers blueliners during the regular season. Knies is the talk of the town, and understandably so, but Koster is a sneaky candidate to earn an ELC with the Leafs as well.
- Fraser Minten had a busy but productive week for Kamloops. He tallied an assist against Edmonton on Monday, added two more in Wednesday’s win over Swift Current, and got into the goal column with his 26th of the year against Lethbridge on Friday. Minten is up to 53 points in 46 games despite seeing his role diminish over the course of the season as the Blazers have added to their lineup in preparation for a run at the Memorial Cup.
- Roni Hirvonen kept up his strong second half with goals in back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Points were difficult to come by in the first part of the campaign, but Hirvonen is now up to 15 goals and 13 assists in 54 games. His 15 goals are a career-high and second most on his team. Hirvonen’s club is currently battling for a playoff spot, but they’ll be in tough if they do get in, perhaps providing more time for him to join the Marlies and get acclimated to life in North America to close out the season.
- Nick Moldenhauer led the offensive charge for Chicago on Friday night. He scored two goals – including a beauty late in the third period – and added an assist as the Steel took down Green Bay 6-5 in overtime. Moldenhauer has now got 19 goals and 29 assists in just 39 games this season as he winds down his USHL career.
- Ty Voit’s pace has slowed a bit in the second half, but he had a huge weekend for Sarnia. The Leafs’ 2021 fifth-rounder scored a goal and added a pair of helpers in a 6-1 victory over Saginaw on Saturday before posting three more assists in another blowout win against North Bay on Sunday. Voit now sits seven points back of the OHL’s leading scorer with 17 goals and 70 assists in 56 games.
- One of the biggest stories in the Leafs’ prospect ranks this season, Nikita Grebyonkin had his season come to an end this past week. It was a stellar year for the 2022 fifth-round pick and he put up one of the most productive age-19 seasons in KHL history. His nine goals and 17 assists in 52 games (seven of those games were spent as an extra with Magnitogorsk before his loan to Khabarovsk) are the fourth most ever by a 19-year-old in the KHL, behind Kirill Kaprizov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Pavel Buchnevich. It wasn’t enough to help Khabarovsk secure a playoff spot, however, and it would be a surprise if Magnitogorsk loans him out again next season. The question will be what kind of role he’ll be able to carve out on a more talented team, but for now, his stock is certainly trending up.
- It was a solid pair of games for Ryan Tverberg last week, notching two assists in Thursday’s overtime win before netting a pair of goals in a 6-1 win on Saturday. UConn wraps up its regular season with two games against Boston College next weekend, and Tverberg will be looking to add to his stat line of 14 goals and 15 assists through 32 games. After Knies, Tverberg is probably the most likely of Toronto’s prospects in the NCAA to find himself in consideration for an entry level contract.
- Artur Akhtyamov had a spectacular season for Neftyanik in the VHL, but his strong play hasn’t been enough so far in the postseason. In game one of his club’s first-round playoff matchup, he stopped 38 of 41 shots in an OT loss, and he was beaten twice on 25 shots in game two to fall behind two games to none. He bounced back in a big way in game three, stopping all 27 shots he faced in a 3-0 win, but surrendered three goals in a game-four loss. Neftyanik is on the ropes, but if they can find a way to generate more offense, Akhtyamov is a good bet to give them the goaltending they need to claw their way back.
- 2022 seventh-rounder Brandon Lisowsky has been finding twine for Saskatoon all season long, and he picked up a pair of goals to go along with an assist over the weekend. He is now four goals shy of the 33 he scored in his draft year, and he is also closing in on last season’s point total in 15 fewer games to this point. It’s been a solid season for one of the last players to hear his name called at the 2022 draft.
- Veeti Miettien’s stock has plummeted since his impressive freshman campaign at St. Cloud State, but he appears to be closing out his junior year on a high note. He picked up a goal and four assists in two games against the University of Nebraska-Omaha over the weekend, establishing a new career-high in points with eight goals and 20 assists in 32 games. St. Cloud will close out its regular season schedule with a two-game set against Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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