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Going Big: Panthers Draft 'Franchise-Type Goalie' Spencer Knight

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2019 NHL Draft: Spencer Knight

Florida Panthers 2019 NHL Draft: Spencer Knight

Interviews with GM/President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon and 1st round pick Spencer Knight

  • 01:10 •

VANCOUVER - Spencer Knight chuckles at the question.

"What's up with the Squidward nickname," I ask, fueled by inquiries on Twitter.

With his 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame protruding from a podium only a few hundred feet away from the stage where the Florida Panthers had just taken him 13th overall at the 2019 NHL Draft, the bright-eyed goaltender credits his lanky limbs as the source of his unusual, cartoonish moniker.

Embracing his tentacled tag, Knight's masks all feature the SpongeBob SquarePants character.

"He's been on all my helmets," Knight said, flashing a big smile. "One of my old coaches called me that because I had long legs. When I was trying to think of ideas for my helmet, I was just like, "Squidward!" I just put him on the back, and he's there. He's there all the time."

It might not be a pineapple under the sea, but some beachfront property in Broward County could be in Knight's future if he becomes the player the Panthers expect he can be. The top-ranked goaltender entering this year's draft, Knight is the 24th netminder to be drafted by the Panthers in the 26-year history of the franchise, but just the first ever to be taken in Round 1.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: A #CatsDraft Knight to remember. pic.twitter.com/J3qJp58R6G

A rare talent that any organization would love to have, Knight 's future was one of the biggest mysteries when the draft began at Rogers Arena on Friday night. There was no question he was going to be taken in the first round, but it seemed there where dozens of potential destinations.

But after meeting with the Panthers earlier in the morning, he felt he could end up with Florida.

"Hearing your name called is a dream come true," said Knight, the first goalie drafted in the top-15 since 2010. "It doesn't seem real, almost. Growing up, it's all you dream of. [The Panthers] are all great people. We had a lot of good conversations and made a good connection. Going into the draft, I had no expectations as to where I was going. I'm happy to be here, though."

The backbone of the USA Hockey's National Team Development Program U-18 team this past season, Knight went 32-4-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and two shutouts in 39 games, setting a NTDP record for career wins by a goalie (59) in the process.

On the international stage, he represented the Red, White & Blue at the IIHF 2019 U18 World Junior Championship, earning a bronze medal. In six tournament games, he led all netminders in save percentage (.936) and goals-against average (1.51). He also served a backup at the U20 Worlds, winning a silver medal. Next season, Knight projects to be the U20 club's starter.

Watch: Youtube Video

"I think this guy is a franchise-type goalie," Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said after closing the book on a very successful Day 1 of the draft. "I like his size. I like his athleticism. I like his composure, his hockey-sense. He handles the puck extremely well and has great positional play. He's very aggressive at the top of the crease."

While Knight doesn't offer immediate help to the Panthers' quest for championship in 2019-20, Tallon does foresee him as the type of goaltender the team can count on manning the crease for many years to come. He reiterated there's a "long-term plan," and Knight is a key part of it.

In fact, of the last 14 Stanley Cup champions, 11 started goaltenders they had drafted.

"It's the most important position," Tallon said of taking a goaltender. "We hadn't had a lot of depth there for a few years, so it was important that we get a franchise-type goalie like this."

In addition to his size, Knight excels at challenging shooters, coming out of his crease and using his massive frame to make any potential openings for a shooter almost disappear. According to scouts, he also tracks the puck and controls rebounds very, very well for such a young goalie.

Despite that quickness, however, he actually wants to work on staying put more often.

"For me, the biggest thing is moving less, trusting your angles, your positioning and your depth," Knight said of his development. "If you're in the right position, you only need to move 6-8 inches."

Heading into next season, Knight will take his talents to the NCAA, where he will suit up for a prestigious Boston College program in dire need of his abilities. With the Eagles, he'll also have a chance to play alongside fellow Panthers prospects Logan Hutsko and Benjamin Finkelstein.

"A lot of great players come out of there," Tallon said when asked about Knight's school of choice. "They've had great success. They have great coaching. He'll have great competition there. A lot of players are playing in the NHL that went through those schools in the East."

Just like Knight's quirky nickname, Tallon believes his new goalie is certainly one-of-a-kind.

"He's not a typical goalie. He's not nuts. He's pretty sane," Tallon said, eliciting laughs. "He's pretty normal. He's very smart. He's just a pleasant young man. He's got great composure. The thing I like about him is that nothing really bothers him. He stays pretty calm and cool."

For a goaltender, staying calm is half the battle. As for the other half, Knight's eager to get to work on that.

"I'm just going to take it year by year and not try to get ahead of myself," Knight said. "I'm trying to develop and focus on the now instead of looking down the road."

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