SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers just took a big step in solidifying the franchise’s goaltending situation for years to come.
On Wednesday, Florida signed 2019 first-round pick Spencer Knight to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Knight, who backstopped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2021 World Juniors, finishing the tournament 5-1-0 with a 1.63 goals against average and three shutouts, has been widely considered one of the best goalie prospects in the world for several years now.
“We are thrilled to have agreed to terms on a contract with Spencer,” Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said in a statement released by the team. “He is an immensely talented and dynamic young goaltender who has been an elite player at every level that he has played. From the collegiate ranks to international tournaments, Spencer has consistently elevated his game, a testament to his work ethic, compete and character. We are excited for him to take the next step in his career with the Panthers and look forward to his future with our club.”
This means that Knight, who has been one of the top goalies in Division I hockey during his two seasons at Boston College, will not be returning to school in the fall.
Now his focus will shift from schoolbooks and Beanpot tournaments to living out his childhood dream of becoming a professional hockey player.
“To me, it doesn’t seem real yet,” Knight said Wednesday during his first Zoom meeting as a member of the Panthers. “I grew up watching the NHL when I was 4-5 years old, and it seemed like a far-off fantasy land.”
Knight’s last game with Boston College was on Sunday, when they lost 4-1 to St. Cloud State in the Northeast Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament.
During his two seasons with the Eagles, Knight finished with an impressive 39-12-3 record, 2.05 goals against average, .931 save percentage and eight shutouts.
He is also a finalist for the 2021 Mike Richter Award, given annually to the top goalie in NCAA Division I.
“It’s bittersweet, but I’m definitely motivated and excited to start the next step,” Knight said of leaving BC. “I think that decision was something that I took a little bit of time to process, a couple of days to decompress. Frankly, after I played that last game, I said, ‘you know what, I think it’s time.’”
The 19-year-old said he ultimately wanted to maximize his time with the Panthers and get the most out of this season, of which there is still a good amount of time left.
Florida has 20 games remaining on its regular season schedule before the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrive, and the American league’s Syracuse Crunch, to whom the Panthers affiliated themselves with for just this season, have played only 15 of their 32-game schedule.
“There’s a lot of time, so I think that was the benefit of signing this year,” Knight said. “I’m definitely looking forward to having a good string of months or weeks, whatever it is, and get used to pro life.”
While there are clear options, it’s not known yet where Knight will end up spending the next several months.
He could stick in South Florida and play on the Panthers taxi squad, which would give him an opportunity to work with Florida head coach Quenneville and goalie coach Robb Tallas, or Zito and his staff may want Knight to log some playing time at the AHL level in Syracuse.
And of course, with Knight under contract, there is still a possibility that he could suit up for a Panthers game.
That could be tough, with Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger both playing well for a Florida team fighting for the top spot in the Central Division. But still, Knight provides one hell of an insurance policy, should the injury bug that has been making its way around the Panthers dressing room find its way to either of the team’s top two goalies.
The bottom line is, there are several possibilities for Knight to find playing time.
“I’m not really sure,” Knight said when asked about what the rest of this season has in store for him. “I know I’m going down to Florida. But that’s as far as I really know how my situation will be mapped out.”
The young goaltender seemed to have a good understanding of the unpredictability of pro hockey, especially for those who play his position.
Knight said whatever happens, he’ll be ready to accept that and play wherever he’s asked.
“Frankly, I think for me, any task I’m given, I’ll be ready and very positive,” he said.
During his Zoom conference, Knight was also asked about rumors that indicated he was hesitant to sign with Florida due to the seven-year contract given to Bobrovsky during the summer of 2019.
That deal, which included a full no-movement clause for Bob, was seen by some as a potential stalemate on Knight’s eventual path to the NHL.
Knight admitted that it was something he gave thought to, but he was convinced by Zito and his front office crew that Florida would be the best place for him to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL.
“When I talked to the management staff, they made it clear on what they wanted to do,” Knight explained. “They said all the right things, and it turned out to be a great situation for me. Bill Zito and Coach Quenneville and the owner Vinny Viola are all just tremendous people, and I think that’s what led me to say, ‘you know what, I think this is the right decision, to sign with Florida.’”