In an alternate universe, the biggest stars in the NHL would be in Beijing right now preparing to start the Olympics in what should have been an epic return to true best-on-best international hockey. However, our reality has allowed players who could have only dreamed to be in Beijing a chance to capture the hockey world. Instead of hearing names like Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Rielly, Nylander, Kämpf, Kaše, Mrázek, and Campbell… Leafs Nation will get used to hearing Ho-Sang, Knies, Abruzzese, and Holmberg. Seeing as the plan was to write about the current Leafs at the Olympics, let’s turn towards possible future Leafs and evaluate how I expect them perform over the coming weeks.
Josh Ho-Sang, RW (Can)
Might as well start this off with the guy who has the greatest chance of putting on a Leafs jersey this season. Thanks to his passion for the Blue & White, Ho-Sang signed an AHL contract that made him eligible for Team Canada. He has 20 Pts in 27 GP while being one of the most electric players on the Marlies this season and it was because of that x-factor that made him an attractive option for Hockey Canada.
I expect Josh to be an offensive catalyst for Team Canada playing on their top line with Staal and McTavish and also the #1 Power Play unit. On top of that, I will be looking for Ho-Sang to find opportunities in other areas of the ice that he might not be excelling at currently. We know of his ability to create off the rush but if Josh is looking to find a role on the Maple Leafs, I think he’ll need to show he can play off of his line mates within the o-zone cycle.
Matthew Knies, C/LW (USA)
Now for who I think is the best player of the pack, the 57th overall pick in 2021… Matthew Knies. The Minnesota Golden Gopher Freshman is having the type of season you’d expect from someone drafted in the top 10. A perfect blend of size, strength, speed and skill… Knies has the makeup of the modern day power-forward. Just look at the kids stat line, 26 GP – 9 G – 16 A – 29 PIM. I envision this guy in the top 9 of the Maple Leafs lineup within the next 2 seasons.
I expect Matthew to to be part of Team USA’s energy line and also chip in some offense on either of the two power play units as a net front option. Knies has the physical stature to dominate in college hockey so I am very interested to see if he can get to those same high-danger spots on the ice against men.
Nick Abruzzese, C (USA)
One of the most puzzling prospects for me in the Leafs system. The undersized junior at Harvard was drafted in the 4th Rd in 2019, but has performed well above a point-per-game going back to his draft year with the Chicago Steel and now into his technically 3rd NCAA season. With COVID-19 impacting Harvard’s ability to play games last season, Abruzzese recorded ZERO games in the 2020-2021 season. I do wonder if the Leafs will look to sign him in the coming months and get him rolling with the Marlies to prevent the risk of him signing elsewhere as UFA after his senior year in 2023.
I look forward to seeing if Nick can continue to produce points in a sheltered offensive role on Team USA. A big point producing tournament for Nick would definitely raise the chances of him being included in a potential deadline deal for the Leafs to bring in some immediate help to the main roster.
Pontus Holmberg, C/LW (SWE)
To end off, we’re going to talk about maybe most underrated prospect in the Leafs system. A 6th Rd pick from 2018, Holmberg is giving off some Pierre Engvall vibes based off his continuous progression in the SHL. Pontus went from 0.21 to 0.33 to 0.51 to 0.82 points-per-game from the 18/19 season to the 21/22 season. Not to mention he was a standout performer in the SHL playoffs last year with 14 Pts in 14 GP leading Växjö to the championship.
I am excited to see if Pontus can find his way to middle ice against better competition at the Olympics. He’s shown to be a very cerebral player who sees the ice well, which is what has made him a success in the SHL, but on the North American ice… he’ll have to find ways to battle in between the dots in order to produce. Holmberg is definitely someone the Leafs should have their eye on, specifically with the Marlies as the season comes to a close.
In closing, these Olympics offer new storylines and new heroes to stake their claim in Olympic hockey lore. I look forward to watching who will stake their claim in Olympic hockey history. How crazy would it be Leafs Nation, if Joshua Ho-Sang for example wins Gold with Canada, or Matthew Knies makes his mark for the American squad. The Olympics may not have the glitz and glamour with the NHLs biggest stars not on the ice, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have some BLUE AND WHITE in them!