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KNIGHT TIME

Top-ranked North American goalie models game after Price, Bobrovsky

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

BUFFALO - The brain-buster, admittedly, caught Spencer Knight off guard.

"Do you like to stop pucks or prevent goals?" he reported one team asking during the interview portion of the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I'm not sure what to think.

"I like stopping pucks, but I think the whole point of goaltending is to prevent goals. So, I'm still going back and forth on that one.

"I'm still thinking about it."

No matter the jargon, the 6-foot-3, 193 lb. puck-stopper (or is it goal-preventer?) is just plain good at it.

 

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Knight, the No. 1-ranked North American goaltender, could become the third U.S.-born netminder in 10 years to be selected in the first round, joining Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars, No. 11, 2010) and Jake Oettinger (Stars, No. 26, 2017).

The Stamford, Connecticut product is coming off an incredible season with the U.S. National Team Development Program, rattling off a 32-4-1 record, a .918 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average in 39 appearances.

He set the record for career wins (59) in his two seasons at the NTDP (78 games), and tied Vancouver Canucks prospect Thatcher Demko (2012-13) for the most wins in a single season with the program.

Playing on the same team as projected first-overall pick Jack Hughes, arguably the draft's best pure goal-scorer in Cole Caufield, and 15 others at the Combine from the stacked U.S. team didn't hurt, either.

Surrounded with talent like that, Knight - who's commited to Boston College for next season - got plenty of work in against the best players in his age group.

"The practices, 3-on-3's, small-area games, they're almost as intense as the games," he said. "Having all those guys, you can do whatever you want, practice whatever you want, really. Guys like Jack Hughes - great shot. Every single rep is hard."

 

Video: Top goalie Spencer Knight on his development

 

Knight's calm demeanour and poised approach to the position is reminiscent of Carey Price. He models his game after him as a result, as well as Sergei Bobrovsky for his elite edge and post work.

"I'm an athletic guy, but I try not to rely on it too much," Knight said. "It's so important nowadays to be positionally sound. It's great to make those ridiculous saves every once in a while, but you don't want to make a habit out of it.

"You need a balance of athleticism and technical ability, and I think I have that.

"If I get even better at that over time and improve on my recovery, I think I'll be in a pretty good spot when it comes to my development as a pro down the road."

To cap a phenomenal draft campaign, Knight won a bronze medal with the U.S. at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, finishing with five wins and a shootout loss against Russia in the semifinals. He had a .936 save percentage and a 1.51 goals-against average and in six games. He also won a silver medal as the third goalie for the U.S. at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

So…yeah. He's done at all - at every level - so far.

And he's hungry for more.

"Nowadays, goaltenders can take a big longer," Knight said after crushing the Wingate portion of the fitness test. "But if you look at (Philadelphia's) Carter Hart, who jumped into the league pretty early, he's having a pretty solid start. And guys like Andrei Vasilevskiy are still pretty young, too.

"I think there's no shortage of talent. The goaltenders are there. It's just about what a team thinks of you."

 

 

Historically, teams have been reluctant to select a goalie in the opening round unless he falls into a very specific group of the elite.

There were zero taken in the first round last year, for example, as the New York Rangers were the first team to select a goalie, tabbing Olof Lindbom in the second round, 39th overall.

Indeed, the days of watching goalies picked high - including with the coveted first choice, like Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury were in the early 2000's - are no more.

But Knight certainly has the credentials to make a case for himself.

"For me, I'm not really worried about where I go," he said. "There's nothing really different about you.

"For me, I just want to take it all in. There's obviously a lot of good players here and a tonne of good players in the (NHL) now. People ask them years down the road about the draft and they say they wished they enjoyed the whole experience more.

"So, for me, I'm just trying to do that."

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