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D-Camp Notebook: Knight Feeling Steady; Gildon Finding His Groove

by Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2021 Development Camp: Day 3

2021 Development Camp: Day 3

Goaltender Spencer Knight and forward Grigori Denisenko detail what they are focusing on in their own games at 2021 Panthers Development Camp

  • 01:50 •

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Spencer Knight hasn't been making it easy on shooters at development camp.

"Honestly, he's been a brick wall," defenseman Max Gildon said of Knight following Monday's on-ice session at the Panthers IceDen. "He's super athletic, mobile in the net and, as far as I know of goalies, he's very good fundamentally. It's a great challenge shooting the puck on a goalie of that caliber."

As much as he challenges shooters, Knight might actually be challenging himself even more.

Bursting onto the NHL scene after inking a three-year, entry-level contract with the Panthers in March, the 20-year-old goaltender garnered attention around the league when he went 4-0-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .919 save percentage over four appearances to close out the regular season.

Not done there, he then went on to suit up in two games against the eventual back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning in the playoffs, including turning aside 36 of 37 shots to lead the Panthers to 4-1 win in Game 5 in front of an electrifying crowd at BB&T Center during the first postseason start of his career.

But for Knight, the past has no bearing on the present.

Win or lose, he's always looking ahead to the next game.

"Anyone can win one game," Knight said. "Anyone can win a playoff game. I think you've just got to do it consistently. I think that's what the best people do. They do it every single day." Never at risk of resting on his laurels, the level-headed netminder feels like just another prospect this week, just another guy trying to prove himself as he works toward becoming a full-time NHL player.

"I'm kind of just using this as a time to just work on my game," Knight said of his overall approach to camp. "I don't really view this stuff any differently than I would if I was a younger guy or an older guy. Honestly, at the end of the day, like I always say, it's just hockey.

"I need to work on my game to perform my best in games. Frankly, I don't really look at myself as having made the team or making the team. I still need to prove to myself that I can do this every single day. I never really want to have that comfort that I've already made the team."

Taken by the Panthers with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Knight's success last season wasn't limited to his time with the Panthers. Prior to turning pro, he went 16-4-1 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .932 save percentage as a sophomore during his final season at Boston College.

Internationally, he also led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Clearly no stranger to success, some of the biggest lessons Knight learned during his two months in South Florida last season actually came off the ice.

"Even when I didn't play, I was just around here, getting to know how to get to the rink, knowing the rink and being comfortable in this setting," he said. Now preparing for his first full season in the pros, it's things like that that he feels will give him a leg up.

Tweet from @JamesonCoop: 🧱������ pic.twitter.com/sCASbH37TH

"If I came in this year not knowing anyone, it's a different story," Knight said of his transition. "It just helps me off the ice. At the end of the day, the hockey is just hockey, right? Everyone is in the same spot just doing the same thing they do kind of anywhere. I think it's all the other things that people don't always realize [that can be important]. Knowing the rink, knowing the area, it's pretty important."

Also providing Knight with some helpful insights and encouragement has been Florida's innovative Goaltending Excellence Department, which is headed by former Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo.

"They're really helpful when I have questions," Knight said.

Although he doesn't have all the answers yet, he's looking forward to taking things day by day.

"I think it was a good experience last year, obviously getting the playoffs and playing in some regular-season games," Knight said. "But, coming back to camp, it's a lot going from here to the rookie tournament and then main camp. There's actually a lot of time before games actually start and the season actually starts. I'm using this as kind of my first building block in terms of on-ice [work]."

GILDON FINDING HIS GROOVE

When he's not firing pucks in Knight's direction, Gildon has another important job at camp.

Locker room DJ.

"First day, I just wanted to bring some energy into the room," Gildon said when asked about being in charge of picking the tunes for the group. "I've been here for a development camp before, so I just wanted to be showing the way for the new guys, making sure they're comfortable and everything."

As for his time on the ice, he's also been finding his groove there as well.

Loaned to Bakersfield in the AHL this past season, the 22-year-old defenseman earned a spot on the league's All-Rookie Team after tallying 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 32 games with the Condors. Additionally, he also managed to finish fourth in plus-minus (+16) among all blueliners in the AHL.

"It was really nice to kind of be able to jump into a team and find that success early on," said Gildon, a third-round pick (66th overall) in 2017. "I give a lot of credit to the coaches and the teammates that were around me while I was there. They kind of showed me the way and made it a little easier on me."

Brimming with confidence after a fortuitous first season in the professional ranks, Gildon said he's been taking pride in being a veteran leader during camp. Whether it's during 1-on-1 drills on team workouts, he wants to be one of the players that sets the tone for everyone else, especially his fellow defensemen.

Tweet from @JamesonCoop: .@GildonMax goes top shelf 🔥 pic.twitter.com/O9vsdovXK0

"I'm looking to kind of put that right foot forward and start off on a good note," he said. "Obviously, the guys here are guys you're going to play with in the future, so it's good to get to know them and develop that chemistry on and off the ice. I think that's an important part of being a successful team.

"I think the guys here, even with the short couple of days we've been here, have really kind of bonded and become a team. It's kind of funny. When you get a bunch of guys in a locker room, I think they just naturally want to work together and compete towards a common goal. It's fun to be a part of."

Looking ahead to training camp, Gildon wants to show the Panthers what he can do.

"I'm just trying to make it a tough decision on the coaching staff for where they want to put me," he said.

HACHÉ EAGER TO LEARN

Braden Haché has been on cloud nine since July.

After being selected by the Panthers in the seventh round (210th overall) in the 2021 NHL Draft, the 18-year-old defenseman has likely had to pinch himself more than once during this week's on-ice sessions.

"It's been surreal," Haché said. "This just gives you even more motivation to follow your dreams, to push harder every day. I'm just trying to be a big sponge and soak in everything I can. We have a great group of guys and a lot of good veterans to look up to. I'm just trying to enjoy every day and prove myself."

Tweet from @JamesonCoop: Speaking of @BradenHache, here���s a goal. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/gDTG6fxSCZ

At this point, just being on the ice is enough to make Haché smile.

Having already missed the final six weeks of his rookie season with Kingston in 2019-20 due to an injury, his time watching from the sidelines ended up lasting much longer than he could've ever imagined after the OHL was forced to cancel its entire 2020-21 season due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I love the game, that's why I play it," Haché said of getting back to work. "Going 18 months without a game is pretty hard on a hockey player. I'm just enjoying every moment, enjoying every day. I'm happy."

Although he wasn't able to get in any games last year, Haché still grew as a player - literally.

Enjoying a sudden growth spurt, he grew two inches last season and now stands an imposing 6-foot-3.

"That jump is pretty big," Haché said. "Being able to train your body to follow along with that, that's what I've been working on in the last year, that and continuing to get faster. It's the same game, but at a whole other speed. I'm kind of seeing that out here and just pushing myself to get better."

Only just beginning his journey with the Panthers, Haché is eager to keep working.

"Once you get here, everybody's here," he said. "We're all here for a reason. It doesn't matter where you were picked or where you played last year. I think it's just about proving myself, proving I belong here and that I can keep up and I can play. That's been my biggest goal, separating yourself. It's pushing me to be better. Every day the intensity grows. We saw that today with more battle drills and compete. We're all pushing each other to be better. We all have the same goal in life, to make it to the next level."

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