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Maple Leafs development camp takeaways: Matthew Knies lives up to hype

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The Toronto Maple Leafs' prospect pool is a far cry from its days as the league’s best during the lowest lows of their tanking seasons in the mid-2010s.

With multiple strong regular seasons in tow, the Maple Leafs have frequently found themselves awarded picks late in the first round, and have even opted to forgo the first round entirely via trade in three of the last four drafts.

Despite that, Kyle Dubas and the rest of the front office have worked effectively to accumulate intriguing secondary and tertiary options. Some notable faces were absent at this week's development camp showcase, including 2020 first-round selection Rodion Amirov, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, but there were still many names of interest present.

Here are the three most significant takeaways from this past week, and some insights worth remembering as the Maple Leafs' development camp wraps up.

Matthew Knies was among the standouts at Maple Leafs development camp. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Matthew Knies was among the standouts at Maple Leafs development camp. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Main Attractions

As was to be expected, the most intriguing attendee was the Maple Leafs' top prospect and 2021 second-round draft selection Matthew Knies. The Arizona native looked above and beyond many of his peers, both in physical stature at 6-foot-3 and in raw talent.

Knies reiterated his plans to return to the University of Minnesota next fall, with aspirations of a gold medal pit stop at the rescheduled 2022 World Junior Championship in Edmonton later this summer.

“I want to win. It’s my last chance to play with that team and those guys,” Knies told reporters on Friday. “So anything I can do to help them get that gold medal or get to the finals, that's my goal.”

The way Knies made his presence known throughout the camp while on the ice demonstrated to onlookers, including Maple Leafs assistant general manager Hayley Wickenheiser, that the work ethic and talent are there for a special player to emerge.

The 19-year-old was consistently among the most advanced players on the ice, using his exceptional hands and strong release to beat defenders and goaltenders across a litany of drills and a pair of scrimmages, including one drill that left social media buzzing.

The Maple Leafs' development staff also clearly prioritized using the opportunity to work one-on-one with the tantalizing forward. After practice earlier in the week, Knies was the last player out on the ice, working with Maple Leafs coaches on key aspects of his game around the net and in the dirtier areas.

“For us, it's about continuing to help him build into the elements of his game. Being able to be a little bit more agile out there and continue to impose his will every time he steps on the ice,” says Wickenheiser.

With some more refinement, including one last run at Minnesota, there’s no telling how high his ceiling could truly be.

Deep Sleepers

In addition to the most obvious names, such as Knies or top 2022 draft pick Fraser Minten, others with much less fanfare heading into camp impressed Maple Leafs brass and media for the week.

Most notably among those were Max Ellis, a recent Maple Leafs signee who played two games for the Toronto Marlies this season, and 2021 fifth-round pick Ty Voit.

In their own unique ways, the two forwards showed notable upside amongst their peers, each showcasing a particular skill that flashed high-end potential.

In Ellis's case it was a blistering shot, particularly for a player of his stature, that made waves. Grouped alongside Knies and Minten for large stretches of the week, Ellis fit right in and at times looked like the best player of the group, albeit as a 2000-born to his 2002- and 2004-born groupmates.

Voit demonstrated some tremendous hands in stretches, dazzling during shootout drills and showing off his creativity during group practices and scrimmages.

The biggest things Voit will need to address will likely come off the ice, following a breakout 80-point season with the Sarnia Sting.

“I think my biggest thing throughout my career is [going to be] getting bigger,” he said earlier this week.” Just showing that it's not gonna be a problem for me to deal with anyone out there physically.”

Game On

Across the six-day camp, two scrimmages with family and friends in attendance were held on Tuesday and Friday.

While it’s always difficult to make broad, sweeping claims about these types of games, they can oftentimes provide some insight into what the Maple Leafs may do in the future. In years past, strong showings by players such as Trevor Moore resulted in contracts or eventual draft selections in the cases of Sean Durzi and Mac Hollowell.

This year, it was a pair of twins, Ty and Dylan Jackson, that stole the show across the two games. The duo racked up points, assisting on each other's goals in the Friday scrimmage, and unsurprisingly showing a tremendous degree of chemistry.

The pair of NCAA products, both of whom transferred from Northeastern University to Arizona State ahead of this upcoming season, frequently helped move the puck in the right direction, at times dominating their competition with strong cycles and moving pucks toward dangerous parts of the ice.

The other standout and lone goaltender to not concede a goal in the Friday scrimmage was Luke Cavallin. Already having received an entry-level deal from the Maple Leafs, Cavallin looked as steady as any netminder in the showcase, demonstrating wicked reflexes and a knack for making big saves.

With the development camp concluded, the Maple Leafs organization will have a few months away from the ice before ramping up with September’s Traverse City Tournament in Michigan. There’s no doubt many of the standouts from this week at the Ford Performance Centre will get another crack at impressing the Maple Leafs' front office later this year.

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