Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Tkachuk, Knies & Villeneuve

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Matthew Tkachuk’s refusal to sign a long-term deal in Calgary and wonder what that might mean for the Maple Leafs with Auston Matthews. Second, I’ll look at Matthew Knies’ potential with the team and consider if he might be this season’s new Michael Bunting.

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Finally, I’ll look at some news about prospects at the Maple Leafs’ Development Camp. Today, I’ll take a quick look at a young right-handed defenseman who’ll likely be with the Toronto Marlies when the season breaks. That’s William Villeneuve. More will come later about him.

Item One: What Happens If Auston Matthews Does a Matthew Tkachuk 

The word is out that Matthew Tkachuk has told the Calgary Flames he won’t sign a long-term extension with them. And, while the many hockey writers are engaged in visions of sugar plums that Tkachuk might sign with their team, my guess is that Tkachuk just wants to go home to St. Louis where he grew up to play there. 

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk might want to leave the Calgary Flames for St. Louis.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Honestly, that’s his right. Furthermore, he’s a good enough player that he can force the team’s hand to make that happen. I’d look for that deal sooner rather than later. 

All this gives Maple Leafs’ fans pause to consider their own mega-star Auston Matthews. What would happen should Matthews tell the team that he wants to go home to Phoenix? What if he said that, while he’s loved his time in Toronto, he just wants to go home. Good friend Justin Bieber aside, Arizona is home and that’s where he wants to play. 

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Realistically, this could be Matthews’ last season with the Maple Leafs. If that’s his call, and who can blame any young guy for wanting to go home, the wise move would be to move Matthews before he leaves for nothing. Is there a chance that the team’s management might trade Matthews prior to next season? Just saying, this might be a key season for the team.

Item Two: Is Matthew Knies this Season’s Michael Bunting?

Matthew Knies was the Maple Leafs’ second-round pick from the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been a standout at the development camp the team is running; and, according to Maple Leafs’ newly-appointed Assistant General Manager Hayley Wickenheiser, Knies has both size and talent. He was a good pickup for a 57th overall draft choice.

Matthew Knies University of Minnesota
Matthew Knies, University of Minnesota (Image courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics)

Last season, Knies scored 15 goals and added 18 assists (for 33 points) in his 33 games at the University of Minnesota. He’ll be heading back this Fall because he’d like to help his Golden Gophers’ teammates win the NCAA championship. Earlier last week, during a media interview Knies shared that he wants to use his last collegiate season to “mature” his game. 

He wants to become a more complete two-way player who can help the Maple Leafs at both ends of the ice. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Knies seems to have the makings of a true power forward. He’s also gaining experience and confidence, having made the USA’s Olympic team last winter.

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The plan right now is that he’ll return to the team when the NCAA season has been completed. That’s something that Maple Leafs’ fans might want to look forward to. Knies looks to become a net-front presence, but with more size than Michael Bunting who engages that role with the team’s first line. 

Speaking of Bunting, is it possible that Knies will be the “news from nowhere” that Bunting was last season. Bunting wasn’t expected to become the key performer that he did, but what a gift he turned out to be. Should Knies be able to bring the same kind of energy and attack to the team, he could prove to be a great addition. In fact, the narrative is already becoming that he’ll be almost like a trade deadline addition to the roster.

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He will come to the team at a time when the need for size and physicality is most necessary. Sure he’s new and has a lot to learn. But he fits the size and shape of a typical power forward. That’s something the team could use.

In short, Knies seems to be a special player. It will be more than interesting to see how he’ll fit into the team when he’s ready to return.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As the Maple Leafs’ development camp unfolds, there will be more stories to engage. It was interesting to see how William Villeneuve works. He’s a right-shot defenseman who’s not yet ready for prime time; however, he did a good job defending Knies in a recent prospects scrimmage. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Michael Bunting: Not Someone to Bet Against

In addition, Villeneuve scored as well. I hope to do more coverage of some of these youngsters as they progress through the camp.