Why Leafs' top prospect Matthew Knies could crack playoff roster

Mar 23 2023, 5:54 pm

With 12 games remaining in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ schedule, it’s a waiting game for most fans to get to the postseason.

Barring a disastrous stretch drive by either team, Toronto and their fans have known for months that they’ll be facing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, a rematch of last year’s seven-game series.

The only things really left to play for are momentum, health, and home-ice advantage, but the Leafs know as well as anyone that it’s hard to say any one given factor will give them the edge come playoff time.

But, pardon the hyperbole, some think that one factor to help the Leafs to their first playoff series win since 2004 could be Leafs prospect Matthew Knies, who plays in the Round of 16 of the NCAA men’s college tournament tonight at 9 pm ET, available online in Canada on TSN+.

Knies, a 2021 second-round pick by the Leafs, has his Minnesota Golden Gophers as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, carrying a 26-9-1 record into today’s matchup against Canisius.

In 36 games thus far this season, Knies has put up 21 goals and 20 assists for a total of 41 points. He’s been named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player.

Knies is expected to sign an entry-level contract in the days following his team’s exit from the tournament, but that could come any time from now until the National Championship game on April 8.

For now, all eyes are on Knies to see whether his Gophers can run the NCAA gauntlet or if he’ll be sent home early, and presumably sign a pro deal shortly after.

Leafs have a history of young playoff performers

Will Knies crack Toronto’s postseason lineup, and score a playoff goal for the Leafs? At the end of the day, that’s what all the discourse is really about.

There’s something special about “the new guy” being able to either light up Scotiabank Arena or silence a road crowd.

And history shows that it’s possible for a prospect like Knies to make an immediate impact despite little NHL experience, as he’s also had no shortage of highlight reels this season:

From 2017 to 2021, Toronto had a streak of five years where a player with 40 games of NHL experience or less scored a goal for them in the playoffs.

And there’s been some great moments by “the new guys” over that stretch, too: Kasperi Kapanen’s overtime winner in Game 2 against the Capitals in 2017, or Trevor Moore’s infamous takedown of Zdeno Chara back in 2019.

Player Previous NHL games Playoff stats
2016-17 Kasperi Kapanen 17 6 GP, 2 G, 0 A
2017-18 Andreas Johnsson 9 6 GP, 1 G, 1 A
2018-19 Trevor Moore 25 7 GP, 1 G, 0 A
2019-20 Nick Robertson 0 4 GP, 1 G, 0 A
2020-21 Rasmus Sandin 37 5 GP, 1 G, 0 A

In 2022, Colin Blackwell scored a playoff goal after playing just 19 games as a Leafs, but at age 28 and over 100 games into his NHL career, it’s hard to say he’s of the same tier as the previous five.

Even if Knies goes all the way to the NCAA tournament final, he’ll still have up to three games left in the Leafs’ season to sign and join the team.

If the stars align, the championship game (and semifinals) couldn’t be in a better location: it’s taking place at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, where the Leafs are playing just three days later.

Maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to stick around in Florida, and have a new championship medal to show off to his new pro teammates.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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