The Toronto Maple Leafs will be having 3 of their top prospects playing in the upcoming 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship starting August 9th and ending on August 20th. The World Junior Championship is the most important tournament for prospects to play in because of how much exposure they get in the NHL world. The tournament is usually held at the end of the year but because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the tournament last December, the whole tournament was canceled and was decided to reschedule for this summer. There will be 10 countries represented this year split into 2 different groups, Group A and Group B. Group A consists of Slovakia, Canada, Finland, Czechia, and Latvia. Group B consists of The United States of America, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. The 2 countries Maple Leaf fans will want to focus on are The United States and Finland. From The United States, the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Matthew Knies will be participating and from Finland, The Leafs have prospects Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemelä.
First, let’s talk about Matthew Knies. Knies is one of the top forward prospects that the Leafs have. He is a 19-year-old, 6’3” 205 lbs forward from Phoenix Arizona. Knies was the Leafs 2nd round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. This upcoming season he will play for the University of Minnesota in the NCAA. The University of Minnesota is one of the best college hockey programs in the United States and consistently makes the NCAA tournament and competes for the National Championship. Last season with the University of Minnesota, Knies had 33 points In 33 games with 15 goals and 18 points and helped lead The University of Minnesota to a National Championship Semi-Final game where they, unfortunately, were beaten by Minnesota State University. Matthew Knies has represented the United States once before in the latest Olympic Games. He had 1 goal and 1 assist in 4 games. Matthew Knies should be an integral part of Team USA’s road to the World Junior Championship game.
Next up we have Topi Niemelä. Niemelä is the best defensive prospect the Maple Leafs have in their prospect pool. Niemelä is a 20-year-old, 5’11” 170 lbs defenseman from Oulu, Finland. Niemelä was the 64th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Last season Niemelä played in the Liiga which is the top Finnish hockey league. He played for Oulun Kärpät where Niemelä had 32 points in 48 games with 10 goals and 22 assists. He will be playing with that same team again next year. In International play, Niemelä shines bright. In last year’s World Junior Championship he had 2 goals and 6 assists in 7 games and was also named Defenseman of the Tournament. Leafs fans should expect big things for this kid this year.
Lastly we have Roni Hirvonen. Hirvonen is another one of the Leafs top forward prospects. Hirvonen is a 20-year-old, 5’9”, 172 lbs forward from Espoo, Finland. In the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the Leafs took Hirvonen with their 59th overall pick. In his most recent season with Liiga team Idrottsföreningen Kamraterna I Helsingfors (HIFK) Hirvonen had 9 goals and 17 assists totaling 26 points in 46 games. In the 2021 World Juniors, Hirvonen had 2 goals and 4 assists in 7 games which propelled him and his team to a Bronze Medal finish. Hirvonen will be playing another season with HIFK this upcoming season.
With these Leaf prospects playing in the spotlight this summer, we hope to see these players shine like the stars they are. A lot of people are gonna have their eyes on Matthew Knies as a lot of people have wanted him to be on the Leafs as soon as last year’s playoffs. This tournament will be a great way for all 3 of these prospects to show the world just how good they really are.