Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Knies vs. Hyman & Why Foligno and Boston

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take an opportunity to compare the team’s 2021 draft choice Matthew Knies to the departed Zach Hyman. Second, I’ll share news about why Nick Foligno chose to sign with the Boston Bruins rather than stay with the Maple Leafs.

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Item One: Looking Far Ahead: Can Matthew Knies Replace Zach Hyman?

There are two things I’ve grown to appreciate about covering the Maple Leafs. First is the passion of the fans. Even if I have a different take on something, I appreciate hearing from fans who’ll add to the conversation. Second, I’ve come to appreciate most other writers who cover the team. 

There are a number of great Maple Leafs’ writers – not the least of which are those who write for THW. My colleagues really know their stuff in ways I don’t – yet. I regularly read other Maple Leafs’ posts for ideas I’d never thought of. 

One fine writer whose work I read regularly is Kevin Papetti. Papetti covers the Maple Leafs, the Toronto Marlies, and the NHL Draft for Maple Leafs Hot Stove. I’ve particularly come to appreciate his prospect profiles. In his post today, he reviewed the Maple Leafs’ prospects numbers six through ten.

As part of his post, he reviewed Matthew Knies, the 18-year-old, 6-foot-3 power forward the Maple Leafs chose with the 57th pick of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. As Papetti noted, after several years of picking good smaller players in the mid-range of the draft, this year the organization went big. 

Knies had a down and an up season in the USHL last season. The word is that he was quite ill with COVID-19 and it took time to recover. When he did, he was overpowering. He won physical battles; he beat defenders in the corners; and, he was almost impossible to knock off the puck.

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The Knies’ review also focused on his skill, pointing out that he’s a good puck handler who sees the ice well. He’s also a good passer, is creative with the puck, and has a strong wrist shot. He can beat goalies from medium-danger scoring areas but also isn’t shy about getting to the net. Finally, the review talks about his ability to win puck battles in the “small spaces” and in the corners. You already know where I’m going with this, right?

Papetti noted that he’d seen Zach Hyman comparisons thrown around, and he then went on to compare the two. Obviously, Knies is bigger and stronger; and, Papetti believes he’s more skilled and has a better shot. But he thinks Hyman’s a far better skater, which made “The Departed One” such an elite forechecker. Patetti noted that Knies would have to get faster before he approached Hyman’s ability in that area of play.

Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman
Former Toronto Maple Leafs player Zach Hyman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hannah Foslien)

Knies will play at the University of Minnesota this season, where he’ll go against bigger and stronger players. There, he’ll get a chance to add to what Maple Leafs’ fans know he can do when he’s healthy. Recently, Knies was one of the better forwards at the World Junior Summer Showcase. There he played on both special teams units, won puck battles, showed off his heavy shot, and went to the net regularly. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Goalie Kallgren Will Challenge For NHL Playing Time in 2021-22

Although it’s way too early, the question I couldn’t help but ask was whether the Maple Leafs, in Knies, might have found a young Zach Hyman clone. One thing we know for sure is that he’ll probably be cheaper for the next seven years.

Item Two: Nick Foligno’s Reason for Moving on from the Maple Leafs?

I read an interesting article from The Columbus Dispatch that laid out Nick Foligno’s reasons for moving on from the Maple Leafs and signing with the Boston Bruins. It wasn’t as if the team didn’t want him back; however, it wanted him in a smaller role. And Foligno didn’t believe his time was up as a viable scorer and regular player. 

Nick Foligno Morgan Rielly Mitchell Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Former Maple Leafs’ Nick Foligno with Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

In short, what the Maple Leafs offered didn’t suit him. The article noted that the Maple Leafs had asked Foligno about returning as a free agent but hoped he’d become more of “a mentor, whose impact would mostly be off the ice.” (from “End of an era: Foligno bids farewell to Blue Jackets, says Columbus is still ‘home’,” Brian Hedger, The Columbus Dispatch, 12/08/21).

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

To wrap up today’s post, I want to highlight a point from the Foligno Columbus newspaper article. Another reason Foligno noted that he signed with the Bruins was because he believed he owed his daughter’s life to the medical team at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

Foligno noted that, “I’m a dad first, it makes you feel good knowing that your kids are well taken care of. You’re in a place (Boston) that, if anything should ever go wrong, Milana’s going to have the care like she had at Nationwide Children’s.” 

Foligno’s wife, Janelle, felt his signing with the Bruins was “a touch of serendipity.” 

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My point is that, in so many ways, hockey players are just like the rest of us. I’ve been through exactly what Foligno describes with a child, and I’d probably make the same choice he did. 

There are lots of good reasons to do things. Foligno included his family in his decision: good on him!