The Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves very silent on the first day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. With their first round pick gone to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Nick Foligno trade– used to select Corson Ceuelemans– they made their first selection at 57th overall.
The last time the Maple Leafs didn’t have a first round pick and made their first selection in the second round was in 2019, selecting Nick Robertson 53rd overall. While they had six picks to work with in the later rounds, they only had three this time. As a result, Maple Leafs general manger Kyle Dubas made the most of what picks he had. Here are the newest players that are part of the Maple Leafs organization.
Round 2, 57th Overall: Matthew Knies, LW, Tri-City Storm (USHL)
In the past, the Maple Leafs have elected to go with smaller, high offensive driving players. Knies is the complete opposite in terms of size as he comes in at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. He brings a different skillset compared to players selected in the past.
An early third round player on my final rankings at 66, Knies is a well-rounded player who can play in any situation with a sense of purpose. He recorded back-to-back 40-point seasons in the USHL with 45 in 2019-20 and 42 in 2020-21. According to Pick224, he had a 0.73 primary points per game played (P1/GP) along with 20 even-strength primary points and three shorthanded goals.
Committed to the University of Minnesota, Knies is a good skater and has really great mobility for his size, as he likes to use every inch of the ice when moving the play forward. He has a good first step that allows him to jump into the play and sneak in on an odd-man rush or even making a pickoff attempt for a quick transition to offense.
Knies has really great strength and isn’t afraid to use his size to his advantage. He is able to easily outmuscle his opponents and provide great protection to maintain possession. He can make a hit along the boards or in open ice to make his presence felt. He’s fierce when engaging in puck battles and having the awareness to always drive and take the puck to the net.
He has quick hands that allow him to make slick moves in tight on the goalie for a great scoring chance. FC Hockey’s USHL scout Dylan Krill had this to say about Knies and his handling: “I believe Knies has some of the best hands in this draft, being able to handle the puck with high pace and protecting it well with his long reach and body.”
An aspect with Knies that might be flying under the radar is his shot. He’s got a quick and powerful release and has good accuracy. He can hurt you when he’s on his strong side, off-wing for a one-time shot or even when trailing behind the play.
Knies is also reliable on the defensive side of the puck. He’s able to log minutes on the penalty kill and is always one of the first players to make the effort and help out on the back check. He’s able to apply pressure effectively and has an active stick to break up plays. His size allows him to separate the puck from the carrier and minimizes any sustained pressure in his own zone.
Watching clips of him, he reminds me quite a bit of the way Zach Hyman plays. He’s the kind of player who can start a cycle game and possibly be an impact middle-six player but with a better shot and hands. The Maple Leafs already have great offensive minded players like Robertson, Mikhail Abramov, Roni Hirvonen and Veeti Miettinen up front. Knies brings a power forward mentality along with a great skillset, making this a good pick.
Round 5, 153rd Overall: Ty Voit, LW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Voit is one of many players who didn’t benefit from having a draft season when the Ontario Hockey League didn’t return to play. He registered 20 assists and 28 points in 49 games in 2019-20 and he was definitely primed to take a big step forward this season had there been one.
However, he did benefit from the PBHH Invitational where draft eligible players were given a chance to showcase their skillset. He tallied seven assists and 10 points in 10 games, proving that he could’ve made major strides and possibly be ranked higher in the draft than many may have had him at. He did have the ability to be a great mid-round pick as I had him as a fourth round pick at 112.
Voit is a very a flashy and creative playmaker. He has great speed that allows him to be elusive when being pressured and maneuvering through high traffic areas. He has great vision to locate his teammates with crisp and clean tape-to-tape passes. He does an excellent job at drawing in the opposition in order to create more space for his teammates to get to the open areas. Despite being 5-foot-10, 161 pounds, Voit does a great job to make himself bigger when protecting the puck.
FC Hockey’s Dylan Galloway wrote an in-depth analysis on Voit and alludes to his balance in order to get that stance and fend off attacking players. As a result, he shows no fear in driving to the net and when he gets his opportunity for a prime scoring chance. He will battle constantly until he gets control of the puck. He will need to get stronger but the will and drive is present in his game.
Round 6, 185th Overall: Vyacheslav Peksa, G, Irbis Kazan (MHL)
The Maple Leafs once again look to the Russian Junior League to add some depth to their goaltending.
This selection surprised many, including myself as there’s not much on Peksa, but he is teammates with 2020 fourth round Maple Leafs draft pick, Artur Akhtyamov. With Akhtyamov moving up and down at all levels, Peksa was able to get quite a bit of ice time in the crease with Irbis Kazan.
Peksa has good size at 6-foot-2, 163 pounds. He played in 17 games this season going 8-5-2 in the process. He finished the season with a .909 save percentage and 2.57 goals against average.
As Akhtyamov appears to be heading in the right direction with his development, it’s possible the Maple Leafs can replicate that with Peksa. Despite the average numbers, the Maple Leafs added some depth to their goaltending pool.
With only three picks at his disposal, Dubas made the most with what he had after trading away his picks to make the decision to go all-in for a deep playoff run. Even though it didn’t work out, it was a move that needed to be done based on how well the Maple Leafs played.
He could’ve selected the best player available, as there were quite a few when they were selecting with their second round pick. However, with an abundance of skill already in the system, he elected to fill out the depth by adding role players to their system that still have great upside.
Statistics from Pick224 and Elite Prospects.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.