Matthew Knies showed off the complete package during his rookie year

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
21 days ago
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Matthew Knies enjoyed his first full season in the NHL and there was a lot to like. From making an impact early on in the year, to eventually becoming one of the Maple Leafs’ most dominant players in the playoffs, the 21-year-old showed off his speed, size and strong two-way game throughout his rookie campaign.
Heading into the 2023-24 season, Knies was penciled in as a top-six left-winger and for the most part that’s where he suited up. The Arizona native bounced around Toronto’s lineup throughout the year, starting on the Leafs’ second line with John Tavares and William Nylander and also saw a little bit of action alongside Auston Matthews on the top line. With Bobby McMann going on several hot streaks throughout the year and Tyler Bertuzzi turning it on in the second half, Knies even skated on the third line at times while ex-head coach Sheldon Keefe constantly tinkered.
The best part is, his game didn’t change regardless of where he suited up in the lineup. Knies showed off his ability to be a strong 200-foot player and someone the Maple Leafs’ organization is going to show a lot of trust in moving forward.

Knies Got First Taste of a ‘Full’ Season

Coming into the season, there was a lot of talk about how Knies was going to eventually hit the ‘rookie wall’ considering he had never played more than 44 games in a season, which came back in 2020-21 as a member of the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. While there was certainly a dip in his production throughout the middle part of the season, surrounding the 44-game mark, Knies actually came on strong to finish the regular season and turned up his production during the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
As the monthly breakdown indicates, Knies posted 17 points in his first 46 games through January and in the final three months of the season managed to collect 18 points in his final 35 games. While it may not have necessarily been a ‘rookie wall’ finding some consistency in his production is something Knies will be shooting for next season as he looks to impress his new head coach. While 35 points is a decent rookie year, Knies has the potential to one day be a 25-30 goal scorer and maybe even eclipse the 70-point mark.

Knies Was A Force in the Playoffs

Perhaps no other Maple Leafs finished off their season better than their 21-year-old rookie. Knies was effective on both sides of the puck during the first-round series against the Bruins, and of course, ended up scoring an overtime winner in Game 5 in Boston to keep the Maple Leafs season alive:
In Game 6 he helped William Nylander score twice, including a filthy neutral-zone pass to spring Nylander in on a breakaway. It’s these types of quick-witted plays that truly showcase Knies’ offensive creativity. He thinks the game at a very high level as his hockey sense is off the charts. Knies has all the skill in the world to play a top-six role for the rest of his career and during the playoffs, he certainly proved he belongs.
Not only were his offensive instincts on display during the first-round series, Knies’ physicality and willingness to be engaged really shined through. He ranked fourth among Leafs’ forwards in hits (23) and first in blocked shots (9). Knies was involved, and a target of the Bruins as he was the most hit forward among any Leaf during the seven-game series. There was also the sequence with David Pastrnak that stands out, as Pastrnak was getting involved with Morgan Rielly in a scrum after the whistle and Knies poked his nose in and challenged the Bruins’ superstar to a fight. Pastrnak decided to pass on taken on the 6’3” youngster. This kind of character, leadership and willingness to stick up for his teammates are attributes that could potentially make him a future captain in Toronto.

Huge Opportunity Lies Ahead Next Season

Knies will enter the final season of his entry-level contract in 2024-25, making just $925,000 against the cap. General manager Brad Treliving has some major decisions to make when it comes to the left-wing position this summer as Tyler Bertuzzi is a pending unrestricted free agent and the same goes for Max Domi who played some time at centre and on the wing. Regardless if either, or both return to the Maple Leafs next season, Knies should be a lock for the top-six.
Leafs head coach Craig Berube has made one thing clear for next season, he doesn’t want his team to get outworked, ever. Berube was very candid about his expectations during his first press conference as Toronto’s bench boss.
“We don’t want to get outworked, ever,” said Berube.  “We want to be highly competitive every night. And it’s all about the team for me. That’s one of the things I really focus on, and that’s part of building the team. Everybody’s important, everybody’s got to be used, they all have jobs and roles. We want to play a north game, we want to play fast, we want to be a heavy team. When I talk about heaviness, it’s not running guys through boards and fighting and all that stuff. The game’s changed. But you still have to be strong on pucks, you’ve got to win puck battles. Those are priorities for me.”
This bodes very well for Knies and his style of play. With the young winger’s ability to use his speed, size, and wittiness to retrieve pucks while playing this ‘heavy’ style game Berube craves, there’s a very good chance Knies becomes one of Berube’s most trusted players.
Knies’ potential is off the charts. He has a chance to become one of the most effective power forwards in the NHL. His game continues to evolve as Leafs fans often have to be reminded he’s only played 97 total games as a pro. With Berube behind the bench next season, this should give Knies’ game a chance to propel his game to the next level as it certainly feels like the two are going to be a perfect match for each other. The young winger could very well turn into an all-situational player in 2024-25, with more ice time on the power-play and penalty-kill units.
The sky is the limit for the former second-round pick. Knies has all the necessary tools to become an absolute force in the league and with his type of work ethic, it’s only a matter of time before his game becomes even more well-rounded at a 200-foot level. While Knies did a decent job at avoiding the rookie wall, next season with Berube behind the bench, he’ll have to manage the ‘sophomore slump’. Challenge, accepted.

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