TORONTO — Newly minted Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Matthew Knies keeps a piece of advice from his childhood hockey coach at the top of his mind.
It just so happens his coach was Shane Doan, an NHL all-star — especially where Knies grew up in Phoenix, Ariz.
The six-foot-two, 210-pound left-winger said Doan used to tell him before every game not to be the most-skilled player, but the best player.
“That’s the kind thing that kind of sticks with me, that I kind of tell myself before games," said Knies, who Toronto picked 57th overall in the second round of the NHL entry draft Saturday.
Doan was a big influence on the young forward growing up.
“I got to pick his brain on a daily basis so that was huge for me," Knies said. "He helped me mature really quickly. Just to learn from him was really special.”
Knies is familiar with another Arizona-based hockey superstar — someone he could one day join in Toronto.
He grew up going to the same skating coach as Auston Matthews and said he practises with the Leafs sniper "here and there" in the summers.
“I haven’t got to know him on a personal level, but he shot me a text so that’s really cool of him,” said the new Leafs recruit. “He’s the kind of guy I looked up to and wanted to play like so I’m really happy he reached out.”
Knies came into the draft as the No. 37-ranked North American skater after struggling at times with the USHL's Tri-City Storm last season. He came down with COVID-19 early in the campaign but still ended the season with 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 44 games.
The performance impressed Toronto's general manager Kyle Dubas.
"I think it's always great to see someone who struggles and comes through it and emerges and has the ability to do so," Dubas said. "And I think that's what we saw from Matthew this year."
Toronto dealt its first-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in April for forward Nick Foligno.
The Leafs dominated the North Division through the pandemic-condensed 56-game season, posting a 35-14-7 record before the Montreal Canadiens eliminated them from the first round of the playoffs in a tightly contested seven-game series.
Last year, Russian winger Rodion Amirov was Toronto's top selection, going 15th overall.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2021.
The Canadian Press