Why Maple Leafs, Canadiens fans should be glued to ‘powerhouse’ Frozen Four

Elliotte Friedman joins The Jeff Marek Show to discuss the potential problems for the Maple Leafs when signing 2021 draftee Matthew Knies.

The puck drops on a “powerhouse” Frozen Four Thursday, and there are seven great reasons for fans of Canadian NHL teams to pay attention to the college hockey’s championship.

NCAA prospects belonging to the Montreal Canadiens (Lane Hutson and Luke Tuch, Alex’s brother), Toronto Maple Leafs (Matthew Knies and Mike Koster), Edmonton Oilers (Skyler Brind’Amour, Rod’s son), Vancouver Canucks (Jacob Truscott), and Winnipeg Jets (Rutger McGroarty) are all gunning for glory in the one-and-done elimination tournament taking place at Tampa’s Amalie Arena this weekend.

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Plus, there is one more opportunity to see how 2023 world junior gold medallist Adam Fantilli (University of Michigan) fares on a big amateur stage before he gets scooped up as the Connor Bedard consolation prize by some lucky franchise on draft night.

“Powerhouse Frozen Four this year with Michigan, Minnesota, Boston University, and a modern powerhouse in Quinnipiac. So, with three No. 1 seeds, and then BU being the Hockey East tournament and regular-season champion, I think we got some great hockey teams coming,” Kevin Westgarth, the NHL’s vice president of hockey development, tells Sportsnet.

Part of the former enforcer and 2012 Stanley cup champion’s job is to grow Division 1 hockey south of the border, and Westgarth — a Princeton grad — takes pride in noting that “about a third” of all NHLers last season played college hockey.

He is enthused by the level of talent featured in this weekend’s final.

“Leading the pack, our good Canadian boy, Adam Fantilli, who’s obviously shooting up the draft boards and probably consensus No. 2 at this point,” Westgarth says.

“He’s an electric player. Can put the puck in the net, but also has great vision on the ice. He does, to me, look like a player for this day and age. Obviously, there’s a few guys out there this year that are making people really excited for the draft coming up. He’s certainly one of them. He really kind of emphasizes how fast and highly skilled the college game is.”

Hutson and Tuch’s Boston University open the tourney against Knies and Koster’s Minnesota Golden Gophers Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

Brind’Amour’s Quinnipiac plays underdog to Truscott and McGroarty’s Michigan at 8:30 p.m.

The two winning schools will compete for the national title Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.

Once the tournament wraps, the already-drafted college stars are free to sign with the pro teams that hold their rights. (Keep an eye on New Jersey’s Luke Hughes, who plays for the University of Michigan, as well.)

“There’s a lot of folks watching Matthew Knies. Obviously, a little Toronto excitement around him, which is very exciting for us as well,” Westgarth says.

Westgarth knows he is understating the obvious.

“Toronto be over the top for Maple Leafs hockey? I don’t believe it,” Westgarth chuckles.

“I grew up in Windsor, so I got the best of both worlds. Red Wings coverage and also absorbing the Leafs. I mean, he is an exciting player. It’s great to see that they’re excited about this kid who elected to go to college and has obviously put himself and his team in a pretty great spot with Minnesota in the Frozen Four and looking pretty darn good.”

Hutson, BU’s left-shot defenceman, erupted for 48 points in 38 games this season. Canadiens fans should be just as thrilled with how their 2022 second-rounder performed this winter as Leafs fans are with their 2021 second-rounder.

“Excited to see just the way he plays, and then also to see kind of the respect that he’s gained off the ice,” Westgarth says. “(Hutson) is just going to show those intangibles off the ice, the leadership and everything that he’s able to provide. Obviously, a heck of a hockey player and brings a lot to BU’s team.

“I’m sure the Montreal Canadiens are pretty thrilled with how their second-round pick is echoing Matt Knies as a second-round pick.

“So, it’ll be a pretty great weekend of hockey.”

Notable Americans with Canadian NHL rights in Frozen Four

Edmonton: Skyler Brind’Amour (Quinnipiac, 2017 6th)

Montreal: Lane Hutson (Boston University, 2022 2nd), Luke Tuch (Boston University, 2020 2nd)

Toronto: Matthew Knies (Minnesota, 2021 2nd), Mike Koster (Minnesota, 2019 5th)

Vancouver: Jacob Truscott (Michigan, 2020 5th)

Winnipeg: Rutger McGroarty (Michigan, 2022 1st)

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