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Knight could be rare goalie chosen in first round of NHL Draft

NTDP star would be seventh since 2009 to be selected that early

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

Spencer Knight of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team believes the most important position in hockey hasn't been getting the respect it deserves at the NHL Draft.

Knight (6-foot-3, 193 pounds), No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, can become the first goalie chosen among the top 20 selections since Andrei Vasilevskiy went No. 19 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 NHL Draft.

The first round of the 2019 Draft is June 21 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are June 22 (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN).

 

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Knight said he doesn't understand why NHL teams continually shy away from goalies in the first round of the draft.

"You can't win without a good goalie and it's hard to get goalies in trades," the 18-year-old said. "It's tough to find guys who are high-caliber goalies because the team that found them isn't just going to let them go. Look at the importance of quarterbacks in football and pitchers in baseball. Those players routinely go in the first round because you need them to win."

History, however, is working against Knight.

Although 11 of the previous 14 Stanley Cup champions started a goaltender they had drafted and developed, just two were selected in the first round: Cam Ward with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 (selected No. 25, 2002) and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 (No. 1, 2003).

Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings (2005, No. 72), Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks (2003, No. 52) and Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2012, No. 83) each were selected in the second round or later and are two-time Stanley Cup champions.

Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals was taken in the fourth round (No. 93) of the 2008 NHL Draft. After being drafted he played one additional season in the Western Hockey League and spent most of the next three seasons in the minor leagues, including 12 games in the ECHL in 2009-10. He played 14 games for the Capitals in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, became an NHL regular in 2012-13 and helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup last season.

Then there's St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, taken in the third round (No. 87) of the 2011 NHL Draft. The 25-year-old became the first NHL rookie to win 16 games while helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup. He had a 2.46 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and one shutout in 26 playoff games.

"The position of goalie is the toughest position to play, and while the 2019 Draft has some depth with goalie prospects, the trend will likely continue whereby there are few goaltenders to consider as first-round selections due to the fact they require a longer development path with projection," director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said.

Marr said NHL scouts do not have as clear a picture about draft-eligible goalies as they do forwards and defensemen, who usually always are in the lineup.

"The focus remains on the athleticism, natural abilities and techniques each possess as well as evaluating their mental and physical assets," he said. "Many draft-eligible goaltenders are the youngest on the team and many are not the starters (in their draft-eligible season), so it's a challenge to catch them in game action and it's mentally tough on the goaltender knowing he needs to play well in order to get another start."

Binnington made his NHL debut Jan. 14, 2016, playing 12:47 in relief, but it wasn't until Jan. 7 that he made his first NHL start. His circuitous route from being drafted to hoisting the Stanley Cup included two additional seasons of development in the Ontario Hockey League and four seasons in the AHL. He started this season with San Antonio of the AHL before making his season debut Dec. 16.

"It's always critical to draft and develop goalies, but it's been something very few teams can do successfully," NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes said. "A lot of it is not only identifying and drafting that talent but your ability to project and have the right resources in place, the right goalie coach who can pinpoint their gifts, traits, skill sets and areas to build around those strengths and work on those weaknesses."

Video: Highlights of USA Hockey NTDP goalie Spencer Knight

Knight, committed to Boston College starting next season, was 32-4-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 39 games for the NTDP and set the program record for career wins (59) in two seasons (78 games).

"He reminds me of (Montreal Canadiens goalie) Carey Price with how very calm and poised he is," Al Jensen of Central Scouting said. "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."

Price, selected by Montreal with the No. 5 pick of the 2005 NHL Draft, spent two additional seasons with Tri-City of the Western Hockey League before joining the Canadiens in 2007-08.

There are several NHL teams in need of goalie prospects and each have at least one pick in the first round, including the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 3, Detroit Red Wings (No. 6), Edmonton Oilers (No. 8), Minnesota Wild (No. 12), Florida Panthers (No. 13), Calgary Flames (No. 26) and Boston Bruins (No. 30). The New Jersey Devils, who have the No. 1 pick in the draft, also could use another goalie prospect but it's likely they select Knight's NTDP teammate, center Jack Hughes.

Jensen said Knight should be a high selection because he already has numerous NHL attributes, including the ability to read and react quickly, excellent body and leg strength, solid lateral movement and an ability to handle the puck well.

John Wroblewski has coached Knight the past two seasons at the NTDP and expects him to thrive in the NHL. Perhaps he will offer hope for other young goalies who scouts consider borderline first-round selections.

"When you're in an NHL setting and have to win four out of seven games, [Knight] has the perfect mentality to do that," Wroblewski said. "He can take an outing where it didn't go perfect for him and adjust and not get too high on his good days or too low on bad days. He's world class and kind of a freak with his athleticism. He moves crisply and fluidly in his crease, knows his angles and can make the impossible save look routine.

"It's very hard to find a generational goalie, but I think Spencer is very unique mentally and physically to be able to persevere in the National Hockey League."

 

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