When drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs Matthew Nice 57m Overall in the 2021 NHL Draft, they were drafting a player that could provide something this team has lacked for some time. A big, physical and highly skilled winger who can do it all.
Since then, Knies has continued to be a factor at the collegiate level in his second season. after An impressive freshman season, he was once again a point per game player (27 points in 25 games) on a very talented University of Minnesota team. Although he had a bit of a slow start this season, he has picked up right where he left off.
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As he continues to progress with his development, Nice is showing why the Maple Leafs drafted him as he continues to show great upside as a prospect. Since last season, at Maple Leafs development camp, his game has been taken to new heights as he continues to showcase his power. Given his play this season, there’s a good chance he could be a potential top-six option when his contract is signed.
Patience starts to pay off
Despite having a strong season as a freshman, Nice could have signed his entry-level contract after his season ended. However, he didn’t feel like he was there yet as he wanted to go back for another season and continue to develop his game.
“I thought I needed one more year (with Minnesota) to become a better player,” Nice said in a post over the summer. By Dave McCarthy of NHL.com. “I know it’s a big step to make it to the NHL and I’m trying to make it a smoother transition. I think I’m going to develop a lot next year and hopefully I can join them at the end of the season.”
So far, Nice seems to have taken a big step forward with his game and overall development as patience is paying off. He continues to play with that power forward mentality, displaying a strong net front presence, his shot and playmaking ability as well as his overall offensive awareness and positioning. He seems to have found another gear in his game as his first step has added jump and speed, which he is Wanted to improve this season.
Both the Maple Leafs and Nice were on the same page when it came to his development, which would ultimately benefit both sides. He looks to make a smooth transition and the Maple Leafs could have a potential top-six powerhouse winger when he arrives.
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Nice has played at all levels in the World Junior Championships, Olympics and last season in college, he has been in multiple situations that have benefited his overall growth as a player. The skills were already evident but the experience he has gained in a short amount of time is going to be a major factor in his success at the next level.
To impose his will offensively
While the spotlight is also on the St. Louis Blues 23rd 2021 overall pick, Jimmy Snuggerud and Arizona Coyotes third overall pick Logan Cooley—as they are first and second in team scoring, respectively—Nice is third in team scoring. Overall in the NCAA, Knies is tied for first in game-winning goals, seventh in power play goals and fifth in shorthanded goals.
Knies continues to be one thing that consistently stands out Use his power to his advantage. Given his 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame, he’s always gaining the inside edge and establishing great physical positions to gain lead control or even puck battles.
While that side of his game was on full display, he again continued to impose his will with his combination of size, skill and offensive drive. This time the way he used his agility and pace to set him apart from the opposition also stood out in every situation. Whether he’s in possession or not, he always has the mindset and awareness to find open space as he always wants to be a scoring threat.
Knies had some really great plays last season, but he has been figuring out a lot of highlight reels as of late. No play was more impressive than this individual effort while being short-handed.
Knies regains control of the puck and rushes to the exit zone. He moves quickly to the outside and as soon as the defender tries to keep him there, Nice makes a soft, one-handed touch. He then makes another move around the second defender and tries to dive to score the shot.
It was an absolutely impressive goal from Nige. As previously mentioned, his speed is a big factor in this play as he gets a strong first step and never breaks stride. Along with his size, he is able to avoid stick checks and withstand any type of pressure when attacking the middle of the ice and net.
In this next play, speed, drive and body position are very evident. When Nice lost his handle on a pass, the hustle and acceleration he displayed and outpaced the defender to regain control showed his work ethic and drive. As he shields the puck perfectly, he then drives it hard towards the net with such power and determination. He took advantage of the five-hole shot for the goal.
Nice shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to be a dominant offensive player. The Maple Leafs need a goal-scoring winger with size and Knies is going to be just that.
Auditions for top-six roles
The biggest question last season was whether Nige was ready for it Jump to the NHL and hold down a roster spot. It was possible, as the Maple Leafs could use his skills. This time, the Maple Leafs can give him every chance to be in the top-six because there is a spot open for the taking. How he has another collegiate season under his belt and has made major strides in his game is not out of the question.
The Maple Leafs could be in the market for a top-six forward Timo Meyer of the San Jose Sharks– Before the deadline. If the Maple Leafs miss out on that impact player, if Nice continues this course, that’s exactly what this team needs in a top-six role.
As the Maple Leafs have said before, there is no rush for Nige and can’t be put in that spot right now. If he’s able to crack the roster, make an impact and work his way up the depth chart, he could find himself in that spot next season. Even if he’s in a third-string power role, he has the speed and physicality to be an effective middle-six player early on. It’s even possible that with some time in the American Hockey League, it could be beneficial.
We saw how fast Pontus Holmberg Has made an impact this season and now Bobby McMann is getting his chance. With Knies’ rapid progress, he may get the look sooner rather than later. The NHL remembers him. If he manages to develop more, then the list has a high place with his name.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading up the draft and prospects department. He previously interned at Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He is currently the co-host of the podcast Sticks on 6ix and a frequent guest on the Maple Leafs Lounge. Besides hockey, he enjoys drumming, animation and impression/voice.