This upcoming Spring will be seven years since the Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top Rookie of the Year in 2017.
It was the first a Toronto Maple Leafs player who had won the award since Brit Selby took home the trophy in 1966.
This upcoming season fans could see one of their own contend for the award again as Matthew Knies vies to not just make the team, but earn a role in the top six for the entirety of the season.
The Maple Leafs drafted Knies in the second round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft after he led his Tri-City Storm in points per game average while playing in the United States Hockey League (the top junior league in the country).
After a pair of seasons at the University of Minnesota that also included appearances at the 2022 Olympics and the World Junior Championships, Knies turned pro last April when he signed his entry level contract with the Maple Leafs.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Matthew Knies to Contend for Calder Trophy
The Toronto Maple Leafs eased him into action and he played three regular season games before the end of the season. While he did not get a ton of ice-time, he played well on the third line averaging 13:07 a night and recording one assist.
Coach Sheldon Keefe elected to keep him out of the line-up to start the Tampa Bay Lightning playoff series. However, after the team lost Game 1 he was inserted into the following contest and then forced Keefe to keep him in each game until his injury in the second round knock him out of for the remainder of the playoffs.
Prior to his first period injury in Game 2 of the series against the Florida Panthers, Knies had recorded four points in the previous five games and appeared to be growing a ton of confidence. Knies was holding onto the puck longer and using his size and strength along the boards and behind the net.
Many top prospect articles including The Hockey News and Elite Prospects have the Arizona native around the 40th best prospect in the NHL and he isn’t getting much love outside of Toronto heading into the season.
However, the under the radar prospect has already had a taste of the toughest the NHL has to offer as he faced off this past playoffs against the 2022 Stanley Cup finalists, as well as the 2023 Stanley Cup finalists.
Most line projections have Knies skating alongside two of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander to start the season.
With the skillset and strength on the puck we saw from him in the playoffs, accompanied by who he will be playing with, Knies should have ample opportunity to have a big rookie season.
While many safe bets would be to choose Logan Cooley or Connor Bedard as the eventual Calder Trophy favourite, Knies would be a wise underdog choice as he has already had his introduction to the NHL and has shown he has the size, skill and strength to play at that level.