Matthew Knies hasn’t even seen a minute of ice time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but already he’s changing the way the team does its business. Specifically, he’s opened up the way that the team has drafted this season as opposed to during past seasons.

That’s because last season when the Maple Leafs drafted Knies with the 57th pick of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, few people knew who he was. In the year since, he’s emerged – perhaps burst on the scene is too big a thought – but he certainly has made hockey pundits notice. His growth and maturity are two reasons the Maple Leafs were able to move Petr Mrazek during Day 1 of the 2022 Draft.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Knies, Minten & New Draft Strategy?

See How Far Matthews Knies Has Progressed

Last year about this time, few Maple Leafs’ fans knew who Matthew Knies even was? They knew he was a bigger player – about the same size as Auston Matthews – and ironically from the same neck of the woods in Phoenix, Arizona. They also knew he would be headed to the University of Minnesota to play for the NCAA’s Golden Gophers.

It’s obvious, however, that the Maple Leafs scored big when they drafted the 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward from Arizona. Although Knies hadn’t put up big numbers playing junior with the Tri-City Storm, that changed when he hit the ice in Minnesota. 

In his first season at the University of Minnesota, the 19-year-old Knies scored 15 goals and added 18 assists (for 33 points) in 33 NCAA games. He helped lead the Golden Gophers to the semifinals of the Frozen Four tournament.

Knies then went on to play for Team USA at the world juniors; and, even more prestigious, (as shown in the tweet above) he laced his skates up with the big guys when he made Team USA and played at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China. All this is from a 57th draft choice in the 2021 Draft.

Related: Maple Leafs Quick Hits: Kase, Engvall, Kallgren & Woll

Why Matthew Knies’ Maturation Helped the Maple Leafs

All this matters because, when the Maple Leafs entered the Draft, they had one big job to do. The team needed to clear salary-cap space because they needed funds to space to squeeze in a new starting goalie. There’s a good chance that Jack Campbell will walk, and Petr Mrazek was injured far too often last season for him to even settle into the role. Mrazek only played 20 games on the season.

Knies represented something different for the Maple Leafs. Over the past few years of the team’s drafting, they’ve chosen small and skilled. That’s not Knies. Knies was big and a bit of an unknown. Although he obviously had potential, he hadn’t shown it yet. 

The Maple Leafs’ Strategy Unfolds at the Draft

Set to choose at No. 25, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas announced that the Maple Leafs were trading that pick and Petr Mrazek to the Chicago Blackhawks for pick No 38. The move cleared Petr Mrazek’s entire contract from the books. 

With the No. 38 draft pick, the team chose Fraser Minten. Minten too – like Knies before him – is a bit of an unknown. He does have the size and plays a physical game. In fact, instead of trying to fill some top-line role on the team, the Maple Leafs went for size, potential, hockey IQ, and defensive determination. 

It could be that Minten might just turn out to be a Knies clone. He’s not as big as Knies, but he’s a young center who has the look of a middle-six power-forward. 

Prior to choosing Knies with the 57th choice in 2021, the team had year-after-year chosen Smurfs. Here’s wondering if what seems to be a home run with Knies might have helped the team think a bit differently about the 2022 draft.

We’ll soon see. Now Maple Leafs’ fans have two players with size to watch grow through the ranks.

Related: Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas: Using Anger as a New Negotiating Tactic 

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