PROSPECT REPORT: SAMUEL KNAZKO
Samuel Knazko is one of my favorite defensemen for this upcoming draft, and one of my biggest risers so far this season. I’ve wanted to write about him for a while now, and I feel like now is the time as he’s turning heads playing in the WJC as a 17 year old. The 6 foot, 185 pound Slovakian is electric on offense, and he’s having a fantastic year in the Jr A SM-Liiga. With 6G + 16A = 22P in 32GP, Knazko leads TPS in scoring amongst defensemen. He also sits 2nd amongst all draft eligible defensemen in the league. His 22 points are also good for 7th amongst all draft eligible skaters. To summarize, Knazko produces. He’s got some special skills to work with, the most notable being his skating.
Knazko is an elite skater. He’s so quick and strong on his edges, which gives him the ability to change directions at will. Knazko utilizes *tons* of linear crossovers to gain speed, giving him a massive advantage when carrying the puck. He’s so dynamic because of this, and can make defense back down while gaining speed. Here’s one of the best examples of this, on TPS’s game winning goal against Assat:
He steps off the bench, and it takes him about 6 strides to get close to his top gear. He takes the puck, and once he takes a quick look up ice and establishes that he’s the guy, he kicks his feet into overdrive. Using those perfect linear crossovers, he’s able to blow past three defenders and get a quality scoring chance. The following rebound ends up being the game winner. Knazko is somewhat of a game breaker in this regard, it’s like having a dynamic scoring winger on defense. His lateral movement is some of the best among all draft eligibles. His feet move so quick when he walks the blue line, allowing him to evade checkers and keep pucks in consistently.
Look at those feet. He’s able to separate to the point where the defender can’t even reach the lane with his stick. Knazko’s skating also gives him a huge advantage on defense. He’s able to keep gaps very tight, and can stay with the top opposing forwards. He breaks up a lot of plays with his stick before the puck even crosses his blue line. Other times, he’s able to cover for teammates for an extra second or two, because he knows how fast he can get back into the play. Knazko doesn’t throw a lot of big hits, but he’s very physical and will use his low center of gravity to win puck battles. Now, onto what makes Knazko special, his offensive game.
Knazko can run a power play, and more importantly, direct offense five on five. Knazko plays with a lot of flair, and stylistically, very similar to Quinn Hughes. His hands are those of a scoring winger, slick and fast. They can keep up perfectly fine with his skating, and he can handle the puck extremely well at top speed. One of the things that makes Knazko special is the fact that he can create from his own zone. He sees the game 2 steps ahead, and processes events very quickly.
Knazko retreats into his end with the puck, baiting the forechecker. He then turns on a dime, leaving the poor guy in the dust. Knazko accelerates up the ice, and hands the puck off at the blue line. He continues to drive down to the net, and the puck ends up deflecting towards him. He bumps it down with his chest, and fires a one touch pass onto his teammate’s tape for an easy finish. Little plays like these are the ones that set Knazko apart from his peers. Knazko’s passing game is extremely strong. He consistently hits his targets in high danger areas, and has a solid element of deception.
Knazko fires a 40 foot bank pass onto his teammate’s stick, and follows the play. He collects the puck at the blue line, draws the defender in, and then lays a slick drop pass for the primary assist. He can make crisp, clean passes across the
ice without even looking.
Here’s Knazko setting up the Slovak’s first goal of the WJC. He squares up to the goalie as if he’s going to shoot, then executes a beautiful slip pass across the ice. This is nothing new to Samuel though, for him it’s clockwork. He’s been making plays like that with TPS all season long, and it’s nice to see him show off those skills on the international stage.
Here he is again, fooling everyone into thinking he’s a shooter. His passes go tape to tape and again, he’s not even looking. He’s also great at making short passes, and catching his teammates perfectly in stride. Here he sets up a give and go finish with a quick little chip
Now, onto Knazko’s most gamebreakinig attribute, his shooting. Knazko’s shot is pretty much as good as Adam Boqvist’s shot was in his draft year. With his high tier puck skills, Knazko can be a nightmare for goalies and defenders alike. He’s a master at backing down defenders, then changing the angle with a toe drag and sniping top shelf.
His release is like a slingshot, and as a result he gets tons of power on his wrister. Knazko’s preferred shooting spot is the mid to low circle, and he loves attacking open ice. With or without the puck, he’ll cycle down low into open space whenever it’s available.
The puck is on and off of his stick too quick for the goalie to have a chance. Knazko’s one timer is also effective. He gets the puck off quick, and it’s fairly heavy. He even gets down on one knee sometimes for extra power.
Even though he prefers to shoot from closer angles, Knazko has no problem wiring shots from the point, he can still pick corners from 30 feet out.
Knazko is a guy that has tons of offensive upside, and can certainly run a power play at the next level. Knazko brings speed, skill, and consistent play to every game. He’s got some Hughes in him, some Boqvist in him, and even a little Sam Girard in him. I’m looking forward to his draft day, and he can potentially be one of the first 10 defensemen taken. If he goes past the second round, someone’s getting a steal. His rights are owned by Vancouver in the WHL, so it will be interesting to see if he chooses to play there, stay in Finland, or go the NCAA route.