ARLINGTON, VA– This year may be Matthew Knies’ rookie campaign, but the Toronto Maple Leafs forward has already had a taste of NHL hockey.
After reaching the NCAA Championship in his sophomore year with the University of Minnesota, Knies joined the Leafs for the tail end of the regular season, suiting up in three games. He would record four points (1g, 3a) in seven playoff appearances — including an assist on John Tavares’ series-winning OT goal — before a collision with Florida’s Sam Bennett prematurely ended his season.
During his brief tenure with the Leafs, Knies got to know both then-assistant coach Spencer Carbery — now head coach of the Capitals — and superstar Auston Matthews.
Knies spoke on coach and player alike on Tuesday at the NHLPA/Upper Deck Rookie Showcase.
Knies spent only a month in Toronto between the end of his collegiate season and the Leafs’ eventual elimination by the Panthers’, but Carbery’s talent immediately stood out. Other NHL teams, too, took notice, with the Capitals, Ducks, and Rangers all reportedly vying for his services. Carbery ultimately accepted the Capitals’ offer for his first NHL head coach position.
“It’s deserving,” Knies said of the hire. “Obviously a really good hockey mind.”
Setting raw coaching skill aside, Knies also highlighted Carbery’s generosity off the ice. The two crossed paths again this week; while Knies participated in the Rookie Showcase and prepared to return to Toronto, Carbery was hard at work gearing up for his first training camp in Washington. Still, he made sure to take a moment for his former player.
“[He’s] really friendly,” Knies continued. “He came out to me just to say hi, to chat. So really deserving of it. I had a short stint with [the Leafs], but from what I picked up, all the guys loved him.”
Knies’ connections to the Capitals also include veteran TJ Oshie through his Warroad brand. Oshie approached Knies while he was playing for the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, ahead of his debut with the University of Minnesota. They’ve continued to work together through the progression of Knies’ career and released a promotion just days before the showcase.
“I got in touch with TJ pretty early,” Knies explained. “At the time I didn’t even know Warroad was a city in Minnesota when I was going; I was playing for the U. He got in touch with me pretty early and I kind of just fell in love with the brand. I wore it and fell in love with what they were doing, how they were trending with hockey. And so it’s been awesome to kind of work with them and grow a partnership.”
When he returns to Toronto, Knies will once again play alongside Auston Matthews, one of the NHL’s biggest stars. The two both grew up in Arizona and trained with the same skills coach over the summer. Matthews is set to become the highest-paid player in the league in 2024 after signing a four-year, $13.25M AAV extension over the summer.
So from the perspective of someone who’s seen his play up close, just how talented is his teammate? Knies didn’t mince words.
“How good is Auston Matthews?” he replied, “Well, he’s pretty damn good.”
That may be something of an understatement. Matthews finished the year with his fourth consecutive 40-goal season, following up a 106-point campaign in 2021-22 that earned him both the Hart and the Ted Lindsay. Knies went on to highlight his teammate’s two-way play, correctly naming the number of blocked shots Matthews took in the last campaign.
“I’m pretty sure he led the league in shot blocks last year, didn’t he?” Knies said. “Was it 92 or something like that? I mean, that shows you that he’s not just the best goal-scorer in the NHL, he plays defensively too. He’s hard to beat on both ends of the ice.
“He’s kind of the best overall player in my eyes and just does the little [things] — faceoffs, blocking shots, being a good leader. So I think he does everything so well that makes the game a lot easier around him.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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