Samuel Knazko is a skilled puck moving defenseman who finished his second season with TPS U20 in the top Finnish junior league. He was the highest scoring U18 defenseman with a 7-21-28 stat line in 48 games. He also played for Team Slovakia at the 2020 World Juniors. He was the third-youngest player in the tournament but already had power play time and logged fourth most ice-time among defensemen on the Slovakian team. The 2002 born blueliner benefits from having played against older competition for several years and looks ready to move up to the next level from the juniors.
Knazko is very poised with the puck and remains calm in the face of opposing pressure. He has a high-panic threshold and he plays fearlessly which enables him to make plays even under heavy forecheck pressure. He is not afraid to hold on to the puck and look for a good passing lane. In the World Juniors, there were some moments when he looked unsettled and tense in his play. However, that was not the case when I watched him play for TPS U20 in the past season. He was much more confident in his decisions, especially with the puck.
The other thing that stands out most is his passing game. He gives smart, productive passes and he has the ability to find the right passing option on the breakout. He can be relied upon to start offensive transitions and he can stretch the ice with sharp long passes. However, at times Knazko can be prone to turning the puck over in his own end. But for the most part, I have been impressed with his ability to start clean breakouts.
Knazko is a good skater with a fluid, clean stride. He moves around the ice well. He is not particularly explosive, though, and he can occasionally struggle to defend fast and agile forwards. He will need to work on his stride power. His top speed could also be better, even though I don’t see it being as much of an issue.
Knazko consistently looks to impact games with his active play off the puck. He makes himself available for passes in the final third, showing good awareness of his surroundings. What’s more, he does not hesitate to jump into the rush. His sharp offensive reads and calculated movement without the puck open up options both for himself and his teammates.
Consistency and defensive game are the areas where I think he has most room for improvement. He shows flashes of high-level offensive skills but his overall game can be erratic. He could do a better job of protecting the net-front area and win more 50-50 puck battles. He is occasionally late to defend in his own end, giving too much room for opposing players to operate. Becoming a more reliable defender would be an important step in his development.
I think Samuel Knazko has a good chance to be picked in the middle or late rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft. His puck poise, passing skills and off-the puck offense are real assets and I could see them translate well to the pro game. Although he needs to work on his defensive game, risk assessment and consistency, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives in my book. Furthermore, I think patience will be very important for the NHL team that drafts him. If the team lets him develop at a moderate pace and gives him time to mature as a player, it could pay off big time in the long term. In Knazko, I see the potential of a middle-pairing NHL defenseman who could be more than a serviceable power play option.
Cover photo: Ronald Hansel / Juniorsky Hokej