Spencer Knight will make his NHL debut on Tuesday night when the Panthers face Columbus.
He’s the latest in a long line of elite college goalies getting opportunities at the highest level.
Knight was a 2021 Hobey Baker Award finalist and won the Hockey East’s player of the year award in his sophomore season with Boston College. He represented the U.S. as the starting goalie during the most recent IIHF World Junior Championship.
He’s followed the same path as Dallas’ Jake Oettinger and Boston’s Jeremy Swayman and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and a slew of others who have made the transition from Hockey East brick wall to an NHL young gun.
Knight backed up Sergei Bobrovsky during Florida’s 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets. On Tuesday, Knight will face the same Columbus team in the second contest of a back to back.
The Panthers are in the thick of a playoff race, sitting in a tie for first in the Central Division. Knight is getting a real chance to be involved in a playoff run, and he gets eased into it on a back-to-back against the fourth lowest scoring team in the league.
Another young goalie gets his shot
Plenty of young goalies who competed against Knight or just before him in Hockey East have made the most of their opportunities. Swayman has been the latest with the Bruins, winning four of his first five games this season, after starring at Maine four four seasons.
A closer comparison to Knight though is probably Oettinger, who gave Boston University three seasons and was a Team USA starter at World Juniors. He debuted in the middle of the playoffs last season with Dallas, and was a part of the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final, before easing into a consistent role this season.
It’s too late in the season for Knight to dramatically steal a role, but it’s a tremendous opportunity to gain real-time, late season and potentially postseason experience. There’s no doubt the 2019 first rounder is in Florida’s plans as their goalie of the future.
“He is an immensely talented and dynamic young goaltender who has been an elite player at every level that he has played,” Panthers GM Bill Zito said after signing Knight. “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.”
Knight’s Boston College Eagles were upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament by St. Cloud State, who went on to the championship game, ending his collegiate career. His sophomore season included back-to-back shutouts before he went to Edmonton for World Juniors, and returned to lead the Eagles to a Hockey East regular season title and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Florida finishes with nine games against playoff teams after Tuesday’s game with Columbus. This is the best chance to get Knight into game action this season and keep pushing for the top seed in the Central. It’s invaluable experience, and a preview of what the Panthers have in store for the future. It also speaks to the confidence they have in the 19-year-old to throw him in the middle of a divisional race.
For Knight, it’s a chance to etch his name into a solid group of former Hockey East goalies who have made the successful leap. It’s not a bad club to be a part of.