In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some insights about the three young players the Maple Leafs chose during the 2021 NHL Entry Draft a couple of weeks ago. Second, I’ll comment upon the signing of Nick Ritchie from the Boston Bruins.
Finally, I’ll look back almost a year to look at one of the great comebacks in Maple Leafs’ playoff history when Auston Matthews scored an overtime goal to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets to force a Game 5 in their postseason play-in series.
Item One: Matthew Knies
During the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, 18-year-old winger Matthew Knies was selected in Round 2 (57th overall) by the Maple Leafs. Recently, he showed what he could do and was surprisingly successful at the World Junior Summer Showcase, when he scored four goals and three assists (for seven points).
That success not only improves the youngster’s chances of making Team USA’s roster for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships in Alberta this coming December, but offers notice that the Maple Leafs might have dug up some first-round talent late in the second round.
One scout noted that “Knies is a power forward with skill. Big, strong, and heavy body. Can play the power game and finesse game. Skates well for size and has a bullet shot. (He) needs to be more consistent. Struggles when he gets away from the power game and tries to be all finesse.”
All in all, looks like a draft pick with promise for the Maple Leafs.
Item Two: The Other Two Maple Leafs Draft Choices: Voit and Peksa
Other than Knies, the Maple Leafs chose yet another smallish left-winger/center in Round 5 (153rd overall) in Ty Voit. Voit played last season with the Sarnia Sting. However, during 2020-21, when the pandemic shut down play in the OHL, Voit didn’t play in any games in the OHL or anywhere else that I could find.
Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers
Then, during Round 6 (185th overall) the Maple Leafs chose a bit of an unknown goalie in 6-foot-2, 163-pound Russian Vyacheslav Peksa. The 18-year-old Peksa is out of Irbis Kazan the MHL (the Russian Junior Hockey League).
Peksa spent last season as 19-year-old Artur Akhtyamov’s backup goalie at Irbis Kazan. Akhtyamov was the Maple Leafs 160th overall draft choice last season.
Item Three: Can Nick Ritchie Score 30 Goals This Season?
So far, the tenor of Maple Leafs’ fans about the signing of 25-year-old Nick Ritchie is all over the place. Some fans believe he’s a strong player who has the potential to replace Zach Hyman. On top of that, he’s four years younger (Hyman is 29 years old). Others see him as a less-than-motivated, non-scoring left-winger who takes a lot of penalties.
Obviously, it’s tough to know what the Maple Leafs have until we see Ritchie in action with his new teammates. He might have considerable upside, or he might be less than helpful. One Maple Leafs’ beat writer who’s obviously a real fan of Ritchie is Stephen Nixon of Editor in Leaf. Nixon predicted that Ritchie would become a Maple Leafs’ fan-favorite before the 2021-22 season was completed.
Nixon also predicted that, if Ritchie were put into the left-wing spot with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, he’d score 30 goals. He called Ritchie’s free-agency a “brilliant under-the-radar acquisition.”
It seems as if the Maple Leafs were able to take advantage of the Boston Bruins salary-cap situation. Rumors were that the Bruins believed they would have to pay too much for RFA Ritchie (who had arbitration rights), so they chose not to qualify him. Perhaps there’s more to the story, perhaps not.
If it’s accurate that the Maple Leafs are loading their plates with the Bruins’ tasty leftovers, I love it. I also think it helps that the Bruins didn’t even talk to Ritchie about what they were doing. During an interview after the Maple Leafs’ signing, Ritchie reported that he was surprised by the move.
If he’s a competitive player, I wonder if that makes him angry. Now that there’s no Canadian division and the Maple Leafs will meet the Bruins again in regular-season games, that might offer a chance for some payback.
In fact, I have this daydream of the Maple Leafs winning their first playoff series in almost 20 seasons with Ritchie scoring the Game 4 series-winning goal (btw, because it’s my dream, it’s a sweep). Really, how good would it be to see the Maple Leafs eliminate the Bruins from the Stanley Cup chase after so many attempts and failures?
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Remembering another good feeling for this Maple Leafs’ team, exactly a year ago yesterday, the Maple Leafs had one of those great games when Matthews scored on the power play at 13:10 of overtime. As Maple Leafs fans remember, their team rallied past the Blue Jackets for an improbable 4-3 victory to force a fifth and deciding game in their qualifying round series.
Too bad that feeling was short-lived. However, a new season is on the horizon. I’m optimistic; but, perhaps, that’s just me. I love watching this Maple Leafs’ team play.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf