Maple Leafs Prospects: Woll, Knies, Villeneuve, & More

Welcome to a new column from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ writing team at The Hockey Writers, Maple Leafs Prospects Weekly. In this series, I’ll get you up to speed on the organization’s prospects who are making headlines in the American Hockey League (AHL), Canadian Hockey League (CHL), NCAA, European Leagues, and everywhere in between.

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In this inaugural edition of Maple Leafs Prospects, I’ll look at a goalie who just reached an NHL milestone along with an impressive weekend from a second-rounder. I’ll also discuss a defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), along with some quick hits on the Toronto Marlies.

Maple Leafs’ Woll Collects First NHL Shutout

I have to start by giving a shoutout to Joseph Woll for his first NHL shutout. He was recalled by the Maple Leafs following an injury setback to Petr Mrazek, who was signed over the summer. Woll made his NHL debut and earned a 5-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 13, and got the shutout in Sunday’s 3-0 win against the New York Islanders, his second start.

Joseph Woll Toronto Maple Leafs
Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A third-round pick in 2016, the Missouri native had a successful tenure with Boston College in the NCAA following his draft year. However, his time in the American Hockey League (AHL) was rocky at best. A lot of people, including myself, were surprised when Woll got the nod over Michael Hutchinson or Erik Kallgren, but he did a good job in his two starts.

While he allowed four goals in his first game, the Maple Leafs also took their foot off the gas, which enabled the Sabres to score two goals in less than a minute. Woll looked calmer and more confident against the Islanders and stopped all 20 shots. While he had a lighter workload against New York, he got the job done when the Maple Leafs needed him to. We’ll see how often head coach Sheldon Keefe calls on Woll while Mrazek remains on injured reserve.

Knies Lights it Up on International Television

The Maple Leafs’ 2021 second-round pick Matthew Knies is having an impressive freshman season at the University of Minnesota. Last weekend’s mini-series against Penn State was streamed on the TSN app, so Canadian hockey fans who wouldn’t normally get to watch college games were able to tune in as Knies rose to the occasion. He scored two goals and three assists in two games over the weekend and now has 14 points in 14 games, behind only Josh Doan (Arizona Coyotes’ second-round pick) and Matthew Coronato (Calgary Flames first-round pick) in points-per-game average by a freshman.

What I like about Knies’ game is his booming shot and a hard-nosed, get-to-the-net style. He’s always fierce on the puck, (as in the video above), and he has good size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He’s exceeded expectations so far this season, and if he keeps it up, he should be included in the Maple Leafs’ group of top prospects.

Villeneuve Turning it Around After a Slow Start

The Maple Leafs dipped their foot in the QMJHL prospect pool in 2020, selecting defenseman William Villeneuve in the fourth round. The Sherbrooke native is coming off a slow start to the season, held pointless through the first five games, but he has been tearing it up lately and now has 12 points in 18 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs.

When the Maple Leafs drafted Villeneuve, he was touted to be a skilled offensive defenseman who needed to work on his defensive game. So, it was a little concerning to see his lack of production after registering 58 points in 64 games in his draft season and 20 points in 33 games in 2020-21.

William Villeneuve Saint John Sea Dogs
William Villeneuve of the Saint John Sea Dogs (Dan Culberson/Saint John Sea Dogs)

Maple Leafs management must see something in the 6-foot-2, right-handed defenseman that others don’t, considering they signed him to an entry-level contract in September. He turns 20 in March, so this season will be his last in junior as he’ll be eligible to play in the AHL next season. It’s nice to see him finding his offensive game, and hopefully, it’s a sign of good things to come.

Quick Hits: Ho-Sang Scores a Beauty, Voit Continues Quiet Success

To kick off my quick hits, you’ve probably seen the goal that Josh Ho-Sang scored to win the game in overtime for the Marlies against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. But in case you haven’t, here it is.

Ho-Sang also added an assist in that game, bringing him to eight goals and 12 points in 13 games this season. The Maple Leafs seem to be giving Ho-Sang the same treatment they did for Alex Galchenyuk last season and are letting him take his time in the AHL before bringing him up. Whether he’s called up in the new year, at the trade deadline, or even next season, I think we can expect great things from him when he makes his return to the NHL.

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Meanwhile, Ty Voit has had a solid week in the OHL. The Sarnia Sting played three games in a row on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and Voit collected two goals and two assists. He now has 20 points in 15 games on the season and is making his case to be included in the World Junior conversation for Team Canada.

A Look at the Week Ahead

This week, Knies and the University of Minnesota will take on the University of North Dakota in a two-game series over the weekend. Meanwhile, the Marlies will take on the Cleveland Monsters in a home-and-home series, and the Maple Leafs’ next back-to-back will be in two weeks from now. Assuming Mrazek isn’t healthy yet, expect to see Woll between the pipes on Dec. 5 against the Winnipeg Jets.

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