(Arlington) Ask 100 hockey players – even 1,000 or 10,000 – who their favorite player was when they were kids. The chances of them saying Mikkel Boedker’s name outright are pretty slim.

Yet this is the answer that Matthew Knies provided, without the slightest hesitation, during a press scrum a few weeks ago.

This choice says more about Knies than it does about Boedker, a forward who had a very honest career of more than 700 games in the NHL, but who never crossed the 20-goal plateau in a season. If the Dane’s biggest admirer wore the number 89 in his honor for a long time, it’s not just because he “was super fast”. It’s also, and above all, because he played for the Arizona Coyotes.

But he is also, like Matthews, one of the very few players on the circuit not only born in Arizona, but who grew up there and played their minor hockey there.

He remembers the 2012 playoffs as if it were yesterday, during which the Coyotes, champions of the Pacific Division, reached the Western Conference final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings .

His heart is obviously in Toronto, but he stays true to his roots when he says he wishes “just good” for the Coyotes, who haven’t exactly seen just good since moving to the area. in Phoenix in 1996. Until further notice, the team is stuck in a 5,000-seat college arena and has yet to announce plans to relocate, to Arizona or elsewhere.

“Of course I want to see my childhood team succeed! », Launched Knies, at the beginning of September, on the sidelines of the NHL Rookie Showcase. The event, organized jointly by card manufacturer Upper Deck and the Players Association, was presented in Arlington, a suburb of Washington.

“They are in the right direction,” he believes. Growing up, it meant a lot to me to be able to be associated with an NHL team. It’s frustrating to see people making fun without knowing what hockey represents in this community. If so many children play today, it’s because of the Coyotes. This team deserves our encouragement. »

If we’re talking about Matthew Knies today, it’s because he represents one of the main attractions of the Maple Leafs training camp.

After signing his first professional contract after his season ended at the University of Minnesota, this Hobey-Baker Trophy candidate played two games in the season in the blue and white uniform, then seven more in the playoffs. He then collected four points, including a goal.

Since the start of camp, he has three points in two games. Wednesday night, against the Buffalo Sabres, he was John Tavares’ left winger.

His current successes are slightly overshadowed by the enthusiasm generated by Easton Cowan, the team’s first round pick in the last draft. Optimism is nevertheless there as far as Knies is concerned, who is not taking anything for granted.

“The playoffs allowed me to become familiar with the team and the rhythm of the NHL, but I have absolutely no guarantee of making the team,” he recalled in Arlington. The pressure inherent in such a hot market is “a privilege” for him.

This is, however, not his first tango. He was just 19 when he was selected for the U.S. team for the Beijing Olympics. Here too, he banked experience – “a very cool experience! », he said – which gave him wings for the rest of his university career.

Here he is today at the gates of the NHL, sitting in the same locker room as another of his youth idols, Auston Matthews. He also played on the same trio as his fellow Arizonan last spring.

Just days before the press conference that led to this report, Matthews had just signed a contract that will make him the highest-paid player in the NHL starting with the 2024-2025 season.

The Press therefore asked Knies, in the simplest possible way, how good Matthews was in the eyes of those who share the ice with him on a daily basis.

“Pretty damn good!” “, he replied, smiling. Or as André Dupont would have said: “Bon en ta…”

“I think he led the league in blocked shots among forwards last year… 92, right? “, he said. The statement is correct, as is the figure.

We can smile at the dithyramb, which will certainly not be unanimous at the Bell Center, Friday and Saturday evening, when the Leafs will be the visitors.

However, we cannot blame a gifted person from the desert for encouraging another.