Knies makes an immediate impact, Hirvonen joins the Marlies: Leafs Prospect Roundup
Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Richard1 month ago
Matthew Knies was the focal point of last week’s edition of the Leafs Prospect Roundup after an impressive three-game debut to close out the NHL regular season, but found himself on the outside looking in as Toronto began their first-round series against Tampa Bay. It didn’t take long for his name to be called, however, and following a three-game suspension to Michael Bunting for an illegal hit on Erik Cernak in game one, Knies has taken advantage of his opportunity through two postseason appearances. In fact, with the way he has performed, it’s fair to wonder how much longer we will be able to discuss him as a “prospect.”
In a blowout, bounceback win for the Leafs in game two, Knies was one of the Leafs’ most impactful players. Skating on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari, Knies saw just under 14 minutes of ice time in which he fired two shots on goal, tied for the team lead with five hits, and finished with a 84.95 xGF%. He didn’t look out of place by any means, and narrowly missed scoring his first NHL goal after a strong play to shake a check and take the puck to the net off the wall, with Andrei Vasilevskiy being forced to make a difficult save. It was a play that has become a hallmark of Knies’ game, and one that is going to help set him apart at the NHL level.
Knies wasted little time making his presence felt again in game three, and picked up his first career playoff point on the opening goal of the contest, finding Noel Acciari off the rush in the middle of the ice. He created a lot of offense off the rush during his time at the University of Minnesota, but there were concerns about how that part of his game would translate to the NHL where there is less time and spaceto make a play, but that hasn’t fazed him through the early days of his pro career.
Nothing has appeared to faze Knies thus far, really, and it seems as though the young power forward is quickly earning a fan in head coach Sheldon Keefe. With the Leafs struggling to generate much of anything after the first period in game three, Keefe bumped Knies up to the top-six in an effort to help spark John Tavares and William Nylander.
More notably, Knies was relied upon in some of the game’s most crucial moments. Down 3-2 in the final minutes with the goaltender pulled, Keefe loaded up a unit of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Ryan O’Reilly, Morgan Rielly, and you guessed it – Matthew Knies. Though he didn’t pick up a point on the play, his presence in the high slot helped open up a lane for Nylander to get the puck on net, where O’Reilly eventually cleaned up the rebound to send the game to overtime.
Keefe didn’t shy away from using his rookie forward with the game in the balance, and after taking a regular shift throughout the extra frame, he found himself battling at the net-front as Rielly feathered a shot over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy and into the back of the net to secure a huge overtime victory.
It has become clear in very short order that Knies won’t be the player coming out of the lineup when Bunting is available to return in game five, and with the way he has performed through his first two playoff appearances, his role could continue to expand even further before the series is finished.
We are still in the very early days of his NHL career, but it already looks like the Leafs landed an impact player when they selected Knies with the 57th pick in the 2021 draft.
Be sure to check out Nick Barden’s story on Knies quickly becoming a difference-maker for the Leafs:
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:
- The Kamloops Blazers continued their march through the WHL playoffs this past week, finishing off their second-straight series sweep as they disposed of the Portland Winterhawks last Thursday. Despite firing six shots on goal, Fraser Minten was held off the scoresheet in game two but notched the winner in game three with a patented snipe from the faceoff circle on the powerplay for his second goal of the series. After adding an assist in a lopsided 10-4 win to clinch the series, Minten is up to three points in four postseason contests after missing the first round due to injury. The Blazers will face their stiffest test yet when they faceoff against the Seattle Thunderbirds in the conference finals, a team who are also undefeated through the opening two rounds of the playoffs.
- After earning a first-round bye, the Marlies are slated to kick off their quest for the Calder Cup when their series against Utica gets underway this Thursday, and head coach Greg Moore will have another new option at his disposal. Following in Topi Niemelä’s path, 2020 second-round pick Roni Hirvonen has been assigned to the Marlies after his club was eliminated from the Liiga playoffs. Hirvonen finished the season with 15 goals and 13 assists in 57 games during the regular season, adding two goals and two assists through 11 playoff games. It will be interesting to see if he is afforded the same immediate opportunity as Niemelä, but he may have to bide his time with so much on the line to begin the playoffs.
- The Sarnia Sting advanced to the conference finals of the OHL playoffs last Thursday, and much like he was in the regular season, Ty Voit has been a huge part of their success. Things are always tighter in the postseason and though he hasn’t produced at the astronimical pace he did in the regular season, Voit’s assist in Thursday’s clincher over Saginaw was his 11th point in 10 postseason games – good for a share of second most on his team. The Sting are set to take on the London Knights for a berth in the OHL finals.
- The Chicago Steel wrapped up their regular season schedule over the weekend, and Nick Moldenhauer is on a hot streak heading into the postseason. He notched his 30th goal of the season and added an assist in Friday’s 7-2 win over Muskegon, then tallied a pair of assists in a losing effort on Saturday. Despite missing a handful of games due to injury earlier in the season, the Leafs’ 2022 third-rounder finished second in team scoring behind 2024 draft-eligible phenom Macklin Celebrini, with 30 goals and 45 assists in 55 games – including 17 points in his final 10 games.
- After going down three games to none in their second-round series against Red Deer, the Saskatoon Blades roared back to win three straight and force a game seven on Tuesday. Leafs 2022 seventh-rounder Brandon Lisowsky was the hero in game four, picking up an assist and scoring the eventual game winner to keep his team alive. He was held without a point as Saskatoon came away with a win in game five but notched a pair of assists in a tightly contested game six on Sunday, and he will have to be a focal point once again if the Blades are going to complete the comeback and win the series.
(Statistics from Evolving-Hockey.com & EliteProspects.com)
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