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NHL Draft

Knight brings impressive skills, mature approach to Panthers

Goalie picked No. 13 in 2019 NHL Draft draws comparisons to Price, Bobrovsky

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Spencer Knight draws comparisons to Carey Price for how he plays between the pipes, but the impressions made by his approach between the ears played just as big a role in being the first goalie picked in the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday.

The Florida Panthers selected Knight with the No. 13 pick, making the 18-year-old the first goalie picked inside the top 20 since Andrei Vasilevskiy went No. 19 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL Draft, and the highest since the Dallas Stars selected Jack Campbell with the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.

Beyond style comparisons to Price and fellow Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon cited Knight's mindset for breaking the trend of no goalies being picked in the first round of the NHL Draft four of the previous six years. 

 

[RELATED: Knight rare goalie selected in top 13 of NHL Draft]

 

"The thing I like is nothing really bothers him," Tallon said. "He's got great composure."

Listening to Knight talk about the position, it's easy to understand why Tallon believes he is a "franchise-type goaltender." Though most scouting reports praised Knight's size (6-foot-4, 193 pounds), strength, skating and stick handling, his maturity and advanced mental approach shines through in how he developed those skills since becoming a full-time goalie as a 10-year-old in Stamford, Connecticut.

Consider Knight's approach to practicing against some of best shooters his age while playing on USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team, which had a record 17 players selected in the 2019 draft, including center Jack Hughes by the New Jersey Devils at No. 1 and seven of the first 15 picks. 

Knight embraced that challenge, even in offensively focused drills that left him exposed. 

"Some drills are very hard for goalies and sometimes it does get frustrating because you are a competitive person, you don't want to get scored on," Knight said. "You just have to ask yourself 'what does success look like in this drill?' If it's a 2-on-0 and they make a pass, it's 'beat it on your feet, be there, be square' and if they go backdoor tap-in the other way, you just day 'alright, I beat it on my feet, that's what I wanted to get done.'"

The comparisons to Price are tied to that ability to beat passes on his skates, arriving set, square and early enough that it sometimes might look like he's not working hard. Knight credits Jared Waimon, his personal goaltending coach since he was 10, for the focus on skating and always trying to hold his edges rather than defaulting prematurely to his knees.

Video: Panthers draft G Spencer Knight No. 13

"He wants goalies to hold their feet as long as you can," Knight said. "For me, it was game changing."

With an increased focus on lateral offense in the NHL, that skating is one of the reasons Tallon thinks Knight, who will play at Boston College next season, can be a rare exception capable of following Price, Vasilevskiy, Carter Hart and Matt Murray to reach the NHL in his early 20s. 

"Take the best goalies in the NHL and you can see Spencer in there somewhere," said NTDP goaltending coach Thomas Speer. "He's a mix of Price with his calmness, his edgework is like Bobrovsky, especially on post play, and he's got the athleticism of a Frederik Andersen."

Waimon, who is also the goaltending coach for Quinnipiac University, credits Knight and his father, Chris, for pushing to make sure Knight's game remained technically efficient as far back as prep school at Avon Old Farms, where the alumni list includes Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

"They were always on me, 'no bad habits, we don't want bad habits,'" Waimon said.

They focused on remaining "neutral," with a narrow stance to maintain access to his edges and power for those lateral pushes, and stressed recovering to his feet rather than moving from his knees. They worked on footwork and puck tracking, a balanced approach that can be tinkered with easily as the game evolves around Knight in college and as a pro.  

"Let's keep him able to use and access his athleticism," Waimon said. 

Some of that athleticism comes naturally. Knight played lacrosse as a forward into high school and believes playing other sports helped him as goalie both physically and reading plays.

Video: Knight on being drafted by Panthers, development plan

"Lacrosse is a constant moving game, similar to hockey and it works your IQ," Knight said. "It's reading those patterns and reading the development of a play to see where it is going." 

Knight worked carefully to develop his athleticism too, crediting Prentiss Hockey Performance near his home, a place that has trained Quick among a long list of former and current NHL players like Max Pacioretty, Torey Krug and Martin St. Louis. He applies the same "no bad habits" approach to his nutrition and training, which put him in the top-15 in eight testing categories at the NHL Scouting Combine, including 7.73 percent body fat.

Speer remembers taking a group of goaltenders out bowling at the end of a long, hard camp for USA Hockey, and some of them asked to stop for an ice cream on the way back. 

"Spencer was the only one that didn't get ice cream. I looked over and asked him 'you didn't want anything?' and he's like 'no, have to maintain seven percent,'" Speer said. "He is just so dialed in with that stuff. He wasn't rubbing it in people's face, he was still having a good time with everyone else, but he is just so professional about everything he does."

It served Knight well in becoming the highest drafted goalie in nine years and should continue to help when he tries to prove the Panthers didn't make a mistake making that pick so soon.

"I get it, honestly, being a goalie it's more magnified if it doesn't work out, you are exposed, and your mistakes are more obvious," Knight said of teams not picking goalies early. "But to be honest with you, if you hit the money, guys like Price, (Marc-Andre) Fleury, Vasilevskiy, all these guys are world class goaltenders. So I get it, but you can't win without a good goalie."

By all accounts, the Panthers got themselves a good goalie in Spencer Knight.

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