This week’s edition of CBJ Prospect Watch takes us back to Cleveland, where we’ll check in on defenseman Samuel Knazko. Samuel is playing in his first season of professional hockey in North America this year, and he’s off to a really good start.
Originally a third round pick (#78 overall) by the Blue Jackets at the 2020 NHL Draft, Knazko made the move from Europe last season, joining the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL). He made a seamless adjustment and was impressive in the Western Hockey League, scoring 5 goals and 20 points in 27 games.
Seattle had a strong team that went all the way to the WHL finals last season before bowing out to the Edmonton Oil Kings in six games. Knazko played in all 25 of the T-Birds’ playoff games, scoring once and adding 5 assists. He also skated for Slovakia at the 2022 Olympics, scoring one assist in seven games.
This season, he’s been thrown into the fire in the AHL because of the number of injuries within the CBJ system – especially on the blueline. But he’s done pretty well for a young Cleveland Monsters team, currently tied for 9th on the team in scoring with 1 goal and14 points through 30 games.
Knazko has good size, but he stands out because of his skating and passing. He has a strong hockey IQ and a natural playmaking ability; when combined with his edgework it allows him to be a threat in a variety of ways – but especially at the top of the umbrella on the power-play.
He’s dangerous because he can make plays on his forehand or backhand, and does a nice job turning his body away from pressure to gain extra time to move the puck. His passes are often spot on; but he also has a dangerous shot, with a quick, accurate release that he gets through traffic more often than not.
In transition, he’s able to skate away from trouble, buy time, and then use his vision and passing ability to send forwards up the ice with speed. He’s still learning the game in the defensive zone, but he has a rare combination of size, skating, and playmaking abilities that could see him develop into a bottom-3 defenseman, and second power-play quarterback player in the NHL.
The fact that he hasn’t been called up to this point, even with all of the injuries, signifies the obvious fact: Knazko needs time to develop. He’ll play this season in the AHL, and probably next season as well. But he’s a cerebral player and as he gains experience and learns the nuances of two-way hockey in North America, he’ll show that he has NHL potential. Quietly, he’s a solid prospect in this system, and one that we should keep a close eye on.