Starting in a few months, incoming Minnesota Gophers forwards Matthew Knies and Tristan Broz will be spending plenty of time together on the ice, in the weight room, in the locker room and on road trips. So maybe it makes sense that they were together in taking their first true strides toward pro hockey careers.

Knies and Broz were selected with back-to-back picks in Saturday’s second round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, with Knies going 57th overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Broz going one pick later at number 58 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was literally a childhood dream come true for Broz, who is from the Twin Cities but admitted he has been a fan of the Penguins and stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin since he was a youth hockey player.

“It’s been such a whirlwind of emotions the entire day. I’m just really thankful to the Penguins organization for drafting me,” said Broz, who is attending USA Hockey’s World Juniors camp in Michigan. “It’s pretty funny, actually. I truly have, since I was a little kid, been a big Penguins fan. I loved Crosby when I was younger, so it kind of feels full circle to be drafted by them.”

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He added that despite being a Minnesota kid, Broz always felt the Wild played a “boring” style of hockey, so he took his fandom elsewhere. A goal-scoring center, Broz comes to the U of M after stops at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, The Blake School and most recently with the Fargo Force where he was named the team’s outstanding forward for the 2020-21 season.

Knies is a good-sized (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) left winger from Phoenix who played most recently for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He is the second notable Phoenix-area hockey standout selected by the Maple Leafs in recent years. Auston Matthews, who is the first true NHL superstar to come from the Arizona desert, went first overall to Toronto in the 2016 draft.

The picks of Knies and Broz came roughly 14 hours after future Gophers forward Chaz Lucius went 18th overall to the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round.

“We’re really excited about this group of guys coming in,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, after three of his players went in the first 58 picks. “We think it’s a very dynamic group offensively. Chaz has a tremendous goal-scoring track record and a great shot."

He added that Knies and Broz both averaged nearly a point per game in the USHL after both of them entered the league as underage players.

In total, there were seven current or future Big Ten players who went in the first 25 picks. While none of the current Big Ten teams have won a NCAA title since Michigan State in 2007 (when the Spartans played in the CCHA), some feel this draft is a statement about the growing quality of talent in the conference.

“I think it’s a trend that you’re starting to see of first- and second-round players from our league the last couple years,” Motzko said. “There are a lot of high-end players coming into the Big Ten right now.”