Knies picking up right where he left off with Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in a pre-season game at the Bell Centre on Friday night. The players who did not suit up held a practice at the Ford Performance Centre in Toronto.
With the core four forwards resting back home in Toronto on Friday night, Matthew Knies made a compelling case that he is ready to fit right in beside the Toronto Maple Leafs' top-end talent.
"I want to play everywhere," the 20-year-old left winger said after scoring a shorthanded goal in the Maple Leafs' 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. "I want to be a contributor in all parts of the game. That's what hockey demands is a player that can play in all three zones and in every situation. I want to be that type of player."
Knies showed that potential down the stretch last season. He picked up four points in seven playoff games before getting hurt in Game 2 of the second round series against the Florida Panthers.
"He's just picked up where he left off," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "He stepped in out of college at the hardest time of the year and showed that he could not just play, but help and contribute."
Despite that success, Knies isn't taking anything for granted at his first NHL training camp. In fact, he's staying in a hotel to maintain focus until his position is secure.
"Some of the areas I thought were issues for him, in particular on our wall in our own zone, he's improved upon," Keefe said. "He shows a great capacity to learn and apply lessons. I was happy to see him finally shoot the puck tonight too, because he's done everything but that and for him to get one to go in will encourage him to shoot even more."
Knies picked up a beautiful assist on a shorthanded goal by Sam Lafferty during Wednesday's pre-season 5-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres. The 6-foot-3, 217-pounder has been effective on the penalty kill throughout the pre-season.
"With his speed, his length, his reach, his tenacity, his ability to get a stick on pucks and win loose-puck battles is really, really good," said Keefe. "We think those are strong assets to have in a penalty killer, particularly with how we kill penalties with a lot of pressure."
Knies is still working with assistant coach Dean Chynoweth on making the right reads and he has benefitted from facing some watered-down rosters.
"It helps that Montreal's power play is probably sitting on their couch tonight," Keefe acknowledged. "But these are good reps and important reps to get."
After getting a taste for the NHL last spring, Knies ramped up his training in the off-season. That work is now paying off.
"More power," observed goalie Ilya Samsonov. "More muscles. He looks huge. He skates fast. I like it, how he's looking at this camp."
Knies is seven pounds heavier than last season and just as fast. Maybe faster.
"I just got to keep my speed up," Knies said. "Keep my strength. It's a very fast and physical game out there so I focused a lot on keeping my speed and trying to get my legs moving a little quicker because plays happen a little faster, so just working on that speed."
Samsonov stopped all 17 shots faced in two periods of work on Friday night.
"I feel good," he said. "Thank you for fans. This rink is so loud ... you feel like a real season game. It was amazing. I feel good. I see a couple small details where I need more working. More, like, back to post, you know, goalie stuff, but nice pre-season game."
"From our perspective it was probably as good a night as you could ask for," said Keefe. "Not an overwhelming amount of work, but certainly enough there that he had to still track the puck. He had to still battle. He looked very solid, very confident and he kept the puck out of the net."
Samsonov plans to talk with goalie coach Curtis Sanford to determine whether he plays one or two more pre-season games prior to the Oct. 11 opener against the Canadiens. The Leafs conclude the exhibition schedule with three games next week.
Samsonov is feeling stronger as he starts this training camp thanks, in part, to a change to his off-season routine.
"My wife, she showed me this summer, you know, hot yoga," Samsonov said. "You stay in a hot room, like a sauna, and you do some stretching with dumbbells. It's different yoga all the time, but it's so nice. I like it. You sweat a lot."
Samsonov notes that hot yoga was good for his mental health. Will it lead to a hot start this season?
"We'll see in the game," he said with a smile. "I feel good shape."
After splitting time with Matt Murray en route to starting a career-high 40 games last season, Samsonov enters this year as the No. 1 goalie on the depth chart. How many games will Samsonov play this season?
"We didn't talk about this," he said. "Depends how I play and how season is going. We have three nice goalies."
Joseph Woll is in line to start the year as Samsonov's back-up. And, if the Leafs can sneak him through waivers, Martin Jones projects to be No. 3 on the depth chart.
Defenceman Timothy Liljegren played his third pre-season game on Friday and for the third straight time he wore an 'A' on his sweater.
"He's earned it," Keefe noted prior to Friday's game. "He's climbed his way through and at times there's been some adversity and, to me, he's dealt with that really well. He's off to a terrific start. He was outstanding the other night in St. Thomas."
"He plays a lot harder than people give him credit for," said veteran Mark Giordano, who has been paired with Liljegren at camp. "He'll hit. He'll make good blocks, good reads. Leadership isn't always about yelling and screaming. Sometimes it's about doing the right things and showing your teammates you're willing to sacrifice for the win."
While the core remains in tact, Toronto saw a lot of role players exit in free agency this summer. There are positions available in the extended leadership group and Liljegren, 24, is a candidate to help fill the void.
"We'll be looking to count on him," said Keefe. "I've talked to some of his teammates, who are part of the leadership group, and they want to see him step up and take a greater role in sort of being that next guy, that young guy to come in and help and have a voice in the leadership too."
After being a healthy scratch in six of the Maple Leafs' 11 playoff games last season, Liljegren's role on the ice is also likely to grow this year despite starting on the third pair.
"He is going to play a lot," Keefe promised. "He is going to kill penalties. He has shown an ability to play on the power play. [Assistant coach] Guy [Boucher] really likes him there. He is going to play a lot for us no matter how he slots in."
Giordano, who will turn 40 next week, is looking to bounce back after a poor performance in the playoffs.
"In terms of taking care of himself, I think this is the best shape I have seen him in from a conditioning standpoint," said Keefe. "That bodes well in terms of him being able to fight off Father Time a little bit."
"I feel good," Giordano said. "I'm trying to keep my speed ... whether it be conditioning or the way I'm working out or the way my reads are on the ice and being in the right spot."
Giordano is hoping his hockey IQ will make up for any age-related decline.
"For me, it’s all about reading where I should be," the Toronto native explained. "You don't necessarily need to be the fastest guy to play fast so that's what I'm looking for ... The one [read] that I focused on the most is in the O-zone, like, getting a really good gap and moving ahead of time so you have that speed built up already."
After starting the pre-season with six points in two games, Conor Timmins was held off the scoresheet on Friday. However, the right-shot defenceman, who logged 24 minutes in Montreal, still earned a positive review from the coach.
"He battled really hard," Keefe said of the plus-two performance. "He took on some big minutes. He had to play a bunch in some tough spots and some spots where we haven’t used him as much. That is what this time of season is for. I thought he looked really good tonight."
Fraser Minten played his third pre-season game on Friday. All three have come away from Toronto.
"It was fun to get on the road with the team," the Kamloops Blazers centre said with a smile following his first road trip to Ottawa. "The travel is very efficient. You just go right from the car, parking lot, right onto the plane. That doesn’t happen in junior so that was pretty cool."
Minten is hoping his holiday season will involve a long plane trip this year. He wants to celebrate Christmas in Sweden.
"I want to have a great year," the 19-year-old centre said. "A goal of mine is to hopefully play for Canada at the World Juniors. That would be amazing if I could make that happen."
He was inspired watching close friend Connor Bedard light up the tournament in Halifax last year.
During his run at a World Junior spot, Minten plans to lean on Blazers co-owner Shane Doan, who just joined the Leafs as a special advisor to general manager Brad Treliving.
"That's really cool, especially with him being a former Blazer and his roots there and he's still involved in there so it's nice to have him to speak too," Minten said. "He's a great human being, super helpful, positive, lots of really good insight from him all the time.
He's pretty involved so hopefully will hear from him throughout the year."
Right-shot defenceman John Klingberg did not take part in practice after suffering an upper-body injury on Wednesday.
"A minor injury," Keefe said. "We're not expecting him to be out for too long so that's good news."
Calle Jarnkrok skated on his own again on Friday as he works his way back from an undisclosed injury. Keefe believes the veteran winger may rejoin practice on Saturday.
William Nylander missed Friday's practice due to flu-like symptoms.
Leafs lines to start Friday's game in Montreal:
Bertuzzi - Holmberg - Gregor
Knies - Minten - Lafferty
Robertson - Kampf - Reaves
Abruzzese - Shaw - Ellis
Giordano - Liljegren
Lagesson - Timmins
Sova - Kokkonen
Leafs lines in practice (non-playing group):
McMann - Matthews - Marner
Domi - Tavares - Steeves
Clifford - Cowan - Hirvonen
Tverberg - Slavin - Blandisi
Rielly - Brodie
McCabe - Rifai
Benoit - Niemela
Lajoie - Villeneuve