Photo Credit: Eldon Holmes / Tri-City Storm
Scouting Report written by Paul Zuk
One of the more perplexing prospects in the 2021 NHL Draft Class is Tri-City Storm forward Matthew Knies. Knies was born in Phoenix, Arizona, but holds a dual citizenship for the USA and Slovakia. His parents and older brother Phil hail from Slovakia, but moved to Arizona before Matthew was born.
Growing up, Knies played his youth hockey in Arizona for the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, where he was a point-per-game player from the 13U to 16U ranks. Following his impressive youth career, Knies joined the Tri-City Storm in the USHL as an affiliate player at the end of the 2018-19 season. He was drafted by the Storm 38th overall in the 2018 USHL Draft.
For the 2019-20 season, Knies stuck with the Storm, and put up very impressive numbers for a USHL rookie, scoring 14 goals and 31 assists for 45 points in 44 games. A lot of eyes were on the newly-minted assistant captain Knies in 2020/21, hoping that he could lead off where he finished last season. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Knies finished the 2020/21 campaign with 17 goals and 25 assists for 42 points in 44 games, a slight dip in production for the USHL sophomore.
Knies has committed to the University of Minnesota for the 2021/22 season, where he’ll line up beside other USHL talents in Tristan Broz and Charlie Strobel. Also joining Knies in Minneapolis will be USNTDP star Chaz Lucius. Knies will look to build on his talented skillset for Head Coach Bob Motzko as he and the Golden Gophers will be looking to make it back to the Frozen Four for the first time in 10 seasons. This past week, Broz, Lucius and Knies were selected to represent the United States at the World Junior Summer Showcase next month in Michigan.
D.O.B – October 17, 2002
Nationality – USA/Slovakia
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Height – 6’3
Weight – 205 lbs
Position – Center/Left Wing
Handedness – Left
Knies’ Style Of Play
Knies is a versatile forward who can play pretty much anywhere up front, but projects more as a LW at the next level. He’s also quite talented in transition, as he can pick up the puck behind the net and absolutely fly through the neutral zone, building up speed using crossovers as he moves through the neutral zone. Knies likes to break the play out wide when entering the offensive zone, cut around the defender, and then drive hard to the net.
Knies has a really high motor when it comes to driving to the net. He’s capable of taking on 3 or more defenders at a time with the puck on his stick, allowing his teammates to exploit the added space in the offensive zone. Though Knies may be considered more of a pass-first player with incredible vision, don’t sleep on his shot. He has a wicked wrist shot that he can deliver with speed and accuracy.
One trend to Knies’ game that scouts will like, is his ability to be physical enough to not get knocked off the puck when battling in the corners. He uses his size to fend off attackers when in possession of the puck, and can out-muscle them, especially when he’s making a play towards goal, which more often than not results in a scoring chance.
Let’s take a deeper look into the facets of Matthew Knies’ game:
Knies isn’t one of the most talented skaters in the 2021 class, but, he is talented enough. He loves to utilize his crossovers in the neutral zone to build up speed for controlled zone entries, and can occasionally go end-to-end which results in an attempt on net.
In transition, Knies is able to open up his hips and change directions quickly, which bodes well for him at the next level. While he isn’t overly explosive in his first couple of strides, he is able to build up a significant amount of speed in a short amount of time. That being said, his foot speed is middle of the pack, so to speak.
Knies has more of an upright skating stride, but can still be powerful and strong on his skates. As competition from here on out will only get tougher for Knies, he should be able to develop his skating more when he arrives at Minnesota in the Fall.
The bread and butter of Knies’ game is without a doubt his skills in the offensive zone. He’s insanely creative with the puck, but sometimes that creativity gets the best of him, which leads to bad decisions and turnovers.
Knies also bodes an impressive set of hands, which helps him as he executes controlled zone entries. He’s able to combine the speed he builds up in the neutral zone with his quick hands to evade defenders and get pucks on net.
Knies also has really good vision on the ice, especially in the offensive zone. He can pick out passes to teammates from relatively any distance and complete them with a moderate level of success. He does have some kinks to work out when it comes to accuracy when passing under pressure and at longer distances, but time and experience will surely fix that.
Knies likes to dish the puck to teammates when entering the offensive zone and pressure the defensemen by going between them when driving to the net, buying his teammates time and space to set up and execute their game plan. This tactic proves successful for Knies, as he often is successful in splitting the defense, and receiving a pass from a teammate for a chance in tight on goal.
While many scouts would say that Knies’ defensive game could use some brushing up, I may be a little higher on his abilities. Knies is able to pinch down and assist his defensemen if they’re under pressure, but could use some more consistency in this area.
He’s able to use his 6’3, 205 lbs. frame to tie up attackers along the boards so his teammates can retrieve the puck, which proves helpful in many roles, especially penalty killing. Speaking of short-handed scenarios, Knies saw an increase this season in his PK time, going from 1:21 min/game up to 2:07 min/game.
An underrated aspect of Knies’ game is his willingness and effectiveness to sacrifice the body and block shots. He can do it either by dropping to a knee and filling up the defender’s shooting lane, or by stretching out and deflecting puck into the corner with his stick.
When it comes to Knies’ defensive ability, there are certainly some adjustments he can make to prove himself more useful in the defensive third of the ice, but I don’t believe he’s as far away as others think.
As mentioned in the beginning of the report, Matthew Knies is certainly a perplexing prospect. His impressive skills in the neutral zone and offensive zone are hard to deny, but there are definitely a few aspects of his overall game that could use some fine tuning.
First off, Knies can look to become a little more consistent. He started his sophomore season in the USHL a little bit slow, but then went on an absolute tear in the last 11 games, scoring 11 goals and 9 assists for 20 points. As he transitions to the next stages in his career, teams will look for him to be less hot and cold, even if it comes with a miniscule dip in production.
Another aspect where Knies could look to build on is his passing accuracy. His vision and hockey smarts help him know when and where to put the puck, but he struggles with delivering it successfully at times. That could be chalked up to a myriad of factors, but excuses won’t solve the problem at hand. Knies is a creative, talented passer of the puck, if he can get the accuracy down pat, he could be elite.
Lastly, Knies could look to simplify his offensive game. At times Knies can become overly creative, and it leads to some risky outcomes. If he can simplify his game a little bit in the offensive third of the ice, it could pay dividends for his success long-term.
Stepping back and taking a look at the entirety of Matthew Knies’ skillset, it’s clear that he can be that talented, middle-six winger who can be a force 5v5, as well as on the powerplay. There are a couple aspects of his game he’ll likely look to improve on at Minnesota in the coming seasons, but for the most part, his offensive skills and overall potential will have teams willing to take a chance on him relatively early in the Draft.
Trying to pinpoint a spot where Knies will be selected in the 2021 NHL Draft has proven to be a difficult task, as there are a lot of variables in play. That being said, there’s clearly enough talent and skill present to warrant a pick in the early stages of the second round. There are also enough points to have him slip a little bit, maybe to the end of the second round/early third round.
Whichever team that selects Matthew Knies will definitely be getting a talented forward who can do pretty much anything in the offensive zone, operate effectively in transition, and can provide offensive production at a fairly good rate. As long as that team can be patient as he works out the kinks in his game, they’ll sure have a really good prospect on their hands.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Paul Zuk. If you would like to follow Paul on Twitter, his handle is @paulzuk_81.
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