CHICAGO – The Florida Panthers goaltender of the future has been masquerading as the team’s goalie of the present.
Spencer Knight, only a few weeks removed from living the life of a sophomore on the campus of Boston College University, has burst onto the National Hockey League scene in historic fashion.
Granted, the 20-year-old’s rookie season has endured all of 144 minutes and four seconds, so far.
Yet according to the NHL, Knight, at 20 years and 10 days old, is the second-youngest goalie in league history to earn a win in each of his first three appearances. Only Bill Ranford (19 years, 110 days) was younger when he did it with the Boston Bruins during the 1985-86 season.
Considering how highly touted Knight has been for the past several years, going back before the Panthers selected him 13th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, is it really that surprising he’s stormed out of the gate like this?
“Honestly, I don’t really know how to describe it,” Knight said following Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win in Chicago. “It’s just hockey, know what I mean?”
No, not really Spencer…but that’s okay.
Through three games, Knight is 3-0-0 with a sparkling .943 save percentage and minuscule 1.67 goals against average.
He won his first NHL start at home, he’s won a game in relief after entering with Florida behind in a hostile environment, and he’s won a start on the road that required clutch saves and overtime heroics.
“He did well,” Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday. “When the game was on the line, they had some big shifts in our end. I thought he did what he had to do.”
Quenneville went on to address Knight’s poise, not only as an inexperienced goalie playing at the NHL level, but also in the face of everything the Blackhawks were throwing at him late in Thursday’s game.
It’s a sentiment that has been repeated by several players in the dressing room over the past week.
“I’m shocked that he’s only played a couple games in the NHL,” Panthers center Sam Bennett said. “He’s so composed back there, and he’s so confident in the net, he gives our team confidence and energy.”
The big question remaining is whether Knight will see any more ice time this season.
It wouldn’t have been terribly surprising if his first NHL start last week against the Blue Jackets ended up being his only game action, with Florida having only a handful of games lingering on the schedule.
But then a sudden lower-body injury to Chris Driedger, who remains day-to-day, and a couple lackluster efforts by Sergei Bobrovsky opened the door for Quenneville to plug Knight into the lineup and ignite a spark with the rest of the team.
Remember, while the Panthers may have clinched their postseason spot, they still have plenty to play for. The Cats are fighting for playoff positioning, whether it be at the top of the Central Division standings or for home ice during round one.
So…have those extra four periods over the past few days been enough to make Coach Q and his staff consider playing Knight again, perhaps over a healthy Bobrovsky?
“We’ll see,” Quenneville said Thursday when asked if Knight had earned another start. “After every game, you evaluate him and it’s just like…man, the kid’s got some composure. We like what we’re seeing.”
Florida has four games remaining on its schedule.
Saturday in Chicago is the final road contest before the Panthers wrap up their slate with a home game against Dallas and then two against the Lightning.
Odds are, each of those games, particularly the pair against Tampa, will decide whether the Panthers first playoff game at the BB&T Center since 2016 is a Game 1 or a Game 3.
Whether or not Knight makes it on the ice again remains to be seen, but you can bet that he’ll be ready if given the opportunity.
“Going into a game, I wouldn’t change my routine just because the game is moving faster,” Knight said of adapting to the NHL. “It’s always going to be the same. I think that’s the biggest thing, just go with the flow and learn along the way.”