Panthers roster shuffle looming as Spencer Knight expected back from AHL soon

Goaltender Spencer Knight of the Florida Panthers defends the net against the Vegas Golden Knights at the FLA Live Arena on January 27, 2022 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) (Joel Auerbach, 2022 Joel Auerbach)

SUNRISE, Fla. – When you’re a team as deep as the Florida Panthers, the surplus of players can sometimes be a luxury that is difficult to afford.

Some might call it an embarrassment of riches, as Florida was able to maneuver injury issues and COVID complications earlier in the season while never really skipping a beat, remaining one of the best teams in the NHL basically since day one.

But now the team is as healthy as it’s been all year, and roster limitations are keeping the Panthers coaching staff, and front office, doing a bit of a juggling act.

Florida’s active roster currently stands at 23 players, which is the maximum allowed by the NHL. That will change after the Trade Deadline on March 21, when roster limitations go away.

Between now and then, however, the team is going to have to make some moves.

Earlier this week the Panthers signed Finnish defenseman Petteri Lindbohm to a one-way deal, and the expectation is that he’ll be added to the active roster once he arrives in South Florida.

Lindbohm had been playing in the KHL with Jokerit Helsinki this season and has to clear some immigration hurdles before he can join the team.

There is also veteran Joe Thornton, who despite being on IR for the past three weeks has been practicing with the team and is expected to return to the lineup sometime before Florida visits his former team, the San Jose Sharks, in 11 days on March 15.

The roster squeeze is what seemingly led to Owen Tippett being loaned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, earlier this month.

Tippett is one of only a few players who are waivers exempt, meaning Florida could send him down to the minors without the risk of losing him to another team.

The only players left on the Panthers active roster who are also waivers exempt are Maxim Mamin and rookie Anton Lundell.

Let’s be clear…Lundell isn’t going anywhere.

The 20-year-old has excelled as Florida’s third line center and become an integral part of the team’s penalty killing unit. He’s on a short list of players considered in contention for the Calder Trophy, given annually to the league’s top rookie.

“He’s the type of kid that every challenge isn’t too big, and he wants to be a great player, he doesn’t just want to be a good player,” said Panthers Interim Head Coach Andrew Brunette. “Anything you throw at him, he wants it, and he wants more. It’s fun to see him develop, and he’s trusted in every situation.”

Mamin may be sent down, albeit temporarily, simply because there will eventually need to be room for Lindbohm and Thornton on the active roster.

But there is another guy who is also expected to re-join Florida’s roster, perhaps sooner rather than later, and that’s goaltender Spencer Knight.

For the past month, Knight has been playing with AHL Charlotte.

Another one of the few Panthers players who is waivers exempt, Knight was initially loaned to Charlotte at the beginning of February as the team was about to have an extended break due to the NHL All-Star Game and void in the schedule for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The move made sense. Knight hadn’t played much with Florida in recent weeks, as Sergei Bobrovsky has received the majority of the starts since the end of the late-December holiday break.

Florida also had a third goalie on the active roster after claiming Jonas Johansson off waivers in mid-December as the league was hit fairly hard by the COVID-19 omicron variant outbreak.

Johansson would have to clear waivers before he can be loaned to Charlotte, a move Florida’s front office has hesitated to make up until this point.

To help teams mitigate the issues that popped up with dozens of players missing time due to COVID-19 safety protocols, the league temporarily brought back taxi squads in late December.

When the All-Star Break arrived, however, omicron had finally calmed down and the taxi squads went away, so Knight was loaned to Charlotte.

Knight and Tippett going to the AHL allowed the Panthers a bit of flexibility with the roster, which it needed because of players like Mason Marchment, Patric Hornqvist and Noel Acciari coming off IR.

Knight has done well during his time with the Checkers, holding a 6-3-0 record to go with a respectable 2.62 goals against average and solid .917 save percentage.

It’s also worth noting that despite playing just nine games with Charlotte, Knight leads the team with two shutouts.

One of those clean sheets came earlier this week when Knight made 44-saves in a 3-0 win over the Hershey Bears.

Bobrovsky is also coming off a shutout, making 18 saves Thursday night to help Florida beat Ottawa 3-0 and snap a three-game losing streak.

While there is no question that the current season has been Bobrovsky’s best since signing with Florida during the summer of 2019, there have still been issues with inconsistency, both in his overall play and the quality of goals that get by him.

In late January Bobrovsky went a stretch of four starts in which he allowed 15 total goals, though he did win three of those games.

Last week Bobrovsky lost consecutive starts for the first time since mid-December, surrendering nine goals on just 54 shots, but he bounced back Thursday and picked up the aforementioned shutout.

Looking ahead, with the playoffs a mere two months away, you’d better believe that Florida wants to have as solid a goaltending situation as possible when the postseason arrives.

It only makes sense for that to include Knight, who is considered one of the top goalie prospects in the world.

But when will he be brought back up to the NHL?

Following Friday’s practice at FLA Live Arena, Local 10 News asked Brunette what the plan is for Knight and if he’d be making his way back to the big leagues any time soon.

“We’re paying attention to where he’s at,” Brunette said. “I know he had a good start this week. I would think he’ll probably be back at some point here soon, and then probably play a game within the next coming week or so.”

Brunette added that he wasn’t sure the “exact plan” and that it has been very fluid, but considering the roster squeeze the Panthers are dealing with, it’s interesting to think they’re planning to recall Knight before the Trade Deadline, when the 23-man limit goes away.

Whether Florida is looking to make a move ahead of the deadline or perhaps waive a player in hopes that person will go unclaimed, one way or another there are going to be some changes coming to the Panthers roster in the not-too-distant future.

“There’s all kind of decisions that go into it,” Brunette said. “We have so many guys right now, to fit them in we have to be a little bit aware (of the roster situation).”

Florida plays eight games between now and the Trade Deadline, starting on Saturday against Detroit.

There are two back-to-back sets during those eight games, including this coming Monday and Tuesday in Buffalo and Pittsburgh, which means the Panthers will more than likely need to lean on a second goalie before the deadline arrives.

Perhaps Brunette will give Johansson another look, or maybe they’re ready for it to be Knight time again.

No matter which road Florida decides to travel down, the roster challenges promise to provide some obstacles to overcome.

Note: This story was updated to reflect that Jonas Johansson can be assigned to Florida’s AHL affiliate if and when he passes through waivers unclaimed and is not required to remain on the Panthers roster for the remainder of the season.

About the Author:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.