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Knight's athleticism, focus could make him first-round pick at 2019 Draft

Goalie's calm, poise reminiscent of Canadiens' Price

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Spencer Knight knew the importance of having balance in everything he did on and off the ice as a goalie for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team this season.

He understands there's a lot more to his game than limber limbs and catlike reflexes.

 

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"I'll try to be athletic but don't want to rely on it too much because you have to have a good balance with everything," Knight said. "You need a balance of technical ability and athleticism. The biggest room for improvement for me is recovery, being square when you recover and not being all over the place. You need to always work on your tracking and playing smart."

Knight (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) could become the third United States-born goalie in 10 years to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, joining Jack Campbell (Dallas Stars, No. 11, 2010 NHL Draft) and Jake Oettinger (Stars, No. 26, 2017 Draft). He's No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies for the 2019 Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on June 21-22.

The 18-year-old said less movement and expending less energy the higher a goalie climbs the ranks is something he takes very seriously at this stage of his development.

"He reminds me of Carey Price with how very calm and poised he is," said Al Jensen, who evaluates goalie prospects for NHL Central Scouting. "He just has that presence in the net like a veteran. I remember watching Carey his underage year, and the way [Knight] plays and his development at this stage is where I see him."

Committed to Boston College for next season, Knight went 32-4-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 39 games, tying Vancouver Canucks goalie prospect Thatcher Demko (2012-13) for most wins in a season at the program. Knight set the record for career wins (59) in his two seasons at the NTDP (78 games).

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 1.51 GAA and .936 save percentage in six games. He also won a silver medal as the third goalie for the U.S. at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"In my reports on him last season, I made a notation that I haven't seen a goalie like this coming up in a long time," Jensen said.

Video: Highlights of USA Hockey NTDP goalie Spencer Knight

Born in Darien, Connecticut, Knight began skating when he was 2 years old and started playing goalie six years later after watching New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden.

"[Lundqvist] was the first goalie I fell in love with because I grew up watching the Rangers," Knight said. "I remember going to the games with my dad and chanting his name."

He's learned a lot working with Jared Waimon, founder of Pro Crease Goaltending, since he was 10, and has gained additional knowledge from NTDP goaltending coach Thomas Speer.

"I've worked with goalies for many years and I don't think I've ever seen a kid so physically and mentally ready for the next level than Spencer," Speer said. "I think special is exactly what Spencer is. His ability to stay on his feet and react to plays is what sticks out to me. A lot of guys will slide around and find ways for the puck to hit them, but he's so strong on his edges that he can usually beat the play on his feet and he's always in the spots to make the first and second save."

Knight relishes high-pressure moments, and as a goalie understands that's a prerequisite for playing the position.

"One mistake and the red light goes on and 10,000 people are screaming," Knight said. "You can let pressure get to you in a negative or positive way. If you let it build up inside, it could become negative by forcing you to become hesitant on the ice. You could also embrace it in a positive way and say, 'This is a big moment and I want to be here in the moment and be the guy to make or break the game.' That's what pushes me to be a better goaltender."

Said NTDP U-18 coach John Wroblewski: "If you have to win four of seven games (in the playoffs), Spencer has the perfect mentality to do that. He's able to take an outing where it didn't go perfect but adjust, not get too high on his good days or too low on the bad days. He's world-class and kind of a freak with his athleticism."

Athleticism aside, Knight believes 80 percent of being a success goalie is mental.

"If you're not feeling good or not confident, you start second-guessing yourself," he said. "Sometimes the shots are coming and if you start thinking a player is going to score before he even shoots, it'll get the best of you. It takes a while to gain that mental stability. That's something you're always working."

 

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