In the summer of 2015, the Toronto Maple Leafs were going through a transition and had Kyle Dubas as their GM on an interim basis.
During that summer, many trades went down for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they headed into the "Shanaplan". Kyle Dubas sent Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins, then brought a prospect in from Florida.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Panthers, all indications were that Zach Hyman was not going to sign with Florida and as such Dubas traded Greg McKegg who was selected two rounds ahead of Hyman to Florida to obtain the rights to sign the University of Michigan graduate.
It would be the best trade of his career to date.
The Second Coming of Zach Hyman
Hyman would quickly become a favourite of coaches and management within the Toronto organization eventually becoming a mainstay on Auston Matthews wing. Despite several injuries, Hyman would score 20-goals in multiple seasons leading up to unrestricted free agency.
Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, due to COVID causing the salary cap to remain stagnant, the team was unable to re-sign the power forward. Hyman would eventually land in Edmonton on a seven year deal and become a superstar and is now on pace to score 50-goals this season.
While Oiler fans like to rub it in that they have Hyman and Maple Leafs fans wonder what if they could have been able to keep him, one thing is quietly emerging in Toronto and that is they may have the second coming of Zach Hyman.
Matthew Knies Looks Better than Zach Hyman
Drafted in the second round of the 2021 draft, Matthew Knies has become the top prospect in the Maple Leafs organization as he plays out his rookie season in 2023-24 without ever setting foot in the American Hockey League.
The power forward jumped into the NHL at the end of the 2022-23 season and had three regular season games to get ready for the playoffs and showed fans his capabilities of potentially becoming a dominant power forward for years to come.
Like Hyman, Knies does not need to be the go-to player on a line, but has already proven to be an elite supporting cast member. The Arizona native has recorded 17-points through 45 games thus far this season while averaging just 30 seconds of powerplay time a night. All but two assists have come at even strength and it shouldn't be long (possibly next season) before he sees regular time with the man advantage.
The similarities between Hyman and Knies lies in how they play the game. Both players are a "dump the puck in and let me go get it". Their style of play has them outwork opponents in the corners, as well as along the boards.
The excitement for Maple Leafs fans is that Knies is bigger, stronger, a better skater and has more skillful hands than Hyman; and he is doing it at a younger age than the former winger.
Hyman finished all four years at the University of Michigan, recording 39 goals over four seasons, 22 of those came in his final season as a 22-year old, while Knies played just two seasons at the University of Michigan where he scored 36 goals, scoring 21 of those in his final season as a 20-year old.
Knies who is now 21-years old has collected eight goals so far this season and in comparison, Hyman was in his third year at Michigan at that age where he scored just seven goals in the NCAA compared to Knies doing it at the NHL.
Hyman made his NHL debut shortly before his 24th birthday during the 2015-16 season and did not become an NHL regular until that next fall when he finished the season with ten goals, where Knies has already proven to be an effective NHLer and will pass those numbers while being three years younger.
While it is quite hard to compare a 21-year old Knies to today's Hyman who will likely reach 50-goals, the current Maple Leaf should at minimum reach the player that Hyman was in Toronto, which was a top six complimentary piece that is easy for any player to skate with.