Projecting goaltenders to the NHL level is as voodoo as it gets. The developmental curve is incredibly inconsistent. I mean hell, a 25 year-old rookie net-minder just came out of absolutely nowhere to backstop the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup championship. Finding a future NHL starter a large percentage of the time is by complete luck. But every once and awhile you get a legitimate stud who emerges. Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, and Andrei Vasilevskiy come to mind. The 2019 draft has one of those prodigies up for grabs: USNTDP goaltender Spencer Knight.
Knight is as good as it gets. He has ideal size, smarts, and athleticism to be a franchise goalie. But placing this position on a draft board is often a difficult process. What your eyes see doesn’t always tell the full story with goaltenders. If we are talking about best player available, Knight is number 18 for me because the 17 ahead of him show high upside with no major concerns. But in terms of finding value, I would not shy away from the idea of taking him in the top-10. Goaltenders more than any other position can outplay their BPA ranking because of the value that is presented with hitting on the position. Knight is a sure enough thing to validate taking the big risk on selecting him very, very high.
|TEAM||U.S. U18 (USNTDP)|
|BIRTHDAY||April 19, 2001|
Knight does everything imaginable at a high level. He has an excellent balance between being passive and aggressive when challenging shooters. He isn’t Henrik Lundqvist passive or Marc-Andre Fleury aggressive but somewhere in the middle. He rarely is out of position because of his great ability of tracking the puck. He has the size and awareness to stay square to the puck and not give up many soft goals. A lot of his saves come across as easy but that is largely because he doesn’t give the shooter much to work with. That has the making for a workhorse starting goalie. He isn’t overworking himself, which long-term is very sustainable.
But the game of hockey is so reactionary and by-chance because of all the funny bounces that takes place. Key scoring chances are bound to happen and not at the fault of Knight. When the situation demands it Knight can make the big save, having the athleticism to stay with the play from not so ideal positioning. Post-to-post he is very efficient as well, although, not as quick across as teammate Cameron Rowe. But he is smart enough to identify which angle to play and give attackers less of an opportunity to score. I will say his rebound control is not top-notch but his recoveries are excellent because of how smart he is.
Looking at his metrics from the NHL scouting combine, it further emphasizes just how great of an athlete he is. He finished 2nd in the standing long jump and 2nd in the vertical jump from a squat position. He also finished in the top-3 for both types of agility shuttle runs, one from the left side and one from the right sid. Overall he finished in the top-15 of 8 categories.
But what also sets Knight apart is that he is elite at playing the puck. He has the vision and confidence to look for his teammates down ice and send them the puck from beyond 50 feet. Like Price and Vasilevskiy, Knight is a legitimate offensive threat because of how well he can deliver stretch passes. He is almost like a third defensemen you have to take into account.
As sound as his technical game is, the mental side of goaltending is just as important. While I have never met or spoken with Knight personally, the impression I get from him in interviews is he has the maturity and mind-set to last in the big leagues. Similar to Jordan Binnington, nothing really bothers him.
He is mentally tough and phased by little. He doesn’t get too high or too low on himself and just worries about playing his game — the type of attitude you want in goaltenders.
A likely top 10 pick and potential first goalie taken in the upcoming draft, what does Spencer Knight of the @USAHockeyNTDP think of that?
Well, it kinda blows his mind.. pic.twitter.com/C9xyBDTfR7
— FOX Sports Detroit (@FOXSportsDet) March 16, 2019
Take all that into account and what you have is a stud goalie prospect. Knight can realistically become a star NHL net-minder with the ability to steal games. He has both the technical and mental side of the position down pat, and is just so advanced for his age. The gap between Knight and everyone else at his position is staggering, as he is the only one to combine elite attributes with little weaknesses.
The topic of conversation isn’t so much if Knight should go in the first round but where in the first round. Everyone has their own beliefs on goaltenders. For me, I would have a hard time taking him over the 17 players I have above him, as they all have the upside of becoming impact players. With the goaltending position being so hard to project, I can’t reasonably place him ahead of guys I am very much sold on.
Like I mentioned before, developmental curves for goaltenders are wildly inconsistent. Talent is talent, yet how long these guys take to get ready is variably different. Early success does not always guarantee long-term sustainability. I think of Jonathan Bernier who was getting playing time in his early twenties, but never really developed into a star player (although has had a fine NHL career).
I feel Knight will be in the NHL rather quickly because of how advanced he already is, needing two seasons at Boston College. But once he arrives that doesn’t mean the development just stops. Developing him into an elite talent will stretch into his NHL career, most likely reaching his apex in his mid-twenties. The end result hopefully being a Vezina caliber goaltender, which he has legitimate potential to reach.