There’s a hesitation in the hockey world to draft goaltenders in the first round. Since the start of the draft, just 64 first-round selections have been used on goalies, a far cry from the 799 forwards and 401 defenders that have been nabbed by teams using those top picks — and not altogether surprisingly, that leaves a fairly paltry list of first-round goaltenders who have managed to string together serviceable, lengthy NHL careers.
That being said, even the most cautious of teams are unlikely to anticipate Spencer Knight falling out of the top 31 at this year’s draft. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a world in which he’ll even fall out of the top 20.
Few goaltenders in recent years have commanded the level of hype that Knight has received, and for good reason. He’s looked perfectly at home at nearly every level of competition he’s played so far, despite the fact that he was a 16-year-old starter on the U18 team, a 17-year-old joining the U20 team, and still a year out from college when he put up collegiate-looking numbers on the U18 US National Team over the course of this last year.
Discussions leading up to June naturally turned to whether or not he’ll be the first US-born goaltender to get selected in the top 15 since Jack Campbell. While Campbell was a dynamic and promising prospect, though — and his coaching under Kings guru Dusty Imoo in the last few years showed that he clearly possesses NHL talent — there’s little about Knight’s game that throws back to America’s 2010 first-rounder. This year’s prospect is controlled, precise, and fascinating to watch; no matter who ends up selecting him, teams are in for a real treat.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / April 19, 2001
- Birthplace: Darien, CT, USA
- Frame: 6-foot-4 / 193 lbs
- Position: Goaltender
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: U.S. National Team Development Program
- U17 WHC Gold Medal
- U18 WJC Silver Medal
- U18 WJC Best GAA (1.51)
- U18 WJC Best SVS% (.936)
- U18 WJC Bronze Medal
- U20 WJC Silver Medal
2018-19 Stat Rundown
Knight’s game has been almost talked to death at this point, but it’s still nearly impossible to overstate just how impressive his game is in comparison to the goaltenders that have been available to draft in the last handful of years.
He’s been playing against a wide range of competition levels for the last few years, including making an appearance on the USA U18 World Juniors team when he was 16 and facing off against collegiate competition (and thriving in doing so) while playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program as a 17-year old this past year. He held his own against the wide range of NCAA starters he and the US program faced, looking as comfortable across the ice from them as he undoubtedly will this upcoming year.
The biggest selling point in his game is his adaptability, with a near-flawless ability to read the pace of play against various levels of competition and adjust his reads, reactions, and timing to fit the situation. He can play against USHL competition or on the world stage, NCAA exhibition games or age-up friendlies, and he looks just as confident and settled as he does during practice; he’s got great technique, but it’s his hockey intelligence that really stands him apart from the rest.
He’s one of the taller goaltenders in the draft, with only Mads Søgaard, Brady Cole, and Carter Nylander standing taller than him among the top-10 North American and top-10 European goaltenders available in Vancouver.
He doesn’t let his size serve as a crutch, though, and his movement is as precise and controlled as a goaltender half his size. His depth is fantastic, and his athleticism is on display without being used to make up for any laziness with his reads or reactions. He makes his saves look boring, which is a good thing; the only thing that could possibly get in his way right now is his own confidence level.
His puck handling skills are arguably the most eye-catching element of his game, as they’re both well above average and full of control. He doesn’t often seem to hesitate when he gets a chance to try maneuvering the puck on his own, and that could make him as much of a high-value entertainment factor for his future team as it could make him a valuable part of the team’s breakout strategy:
Love Spencer Knight puckhandling skills 🧐 pic.twitter.com/f3x7tcwKoz
— Jérôme Bérubé (@Jerome_Berube) April 22, 2019
It remains to be seen just how much his puck handling will outclass the coming generation of goaltenders, who have — like him — grown up with that as a practiced element in their games as well. For the time being, though, he’s shown an elite ability to both play a great game in the crease and control the puck when he comes outside the blue paint.
Breaking down the elements of his game between the posts is easy enough to do. He’s got phenomenal posture and a great stance in his skates, and his fantastic game IQ means that he rarely arrives at a shot late or overshoots his positioning. He boasts a fantastic combination of those game smarts and the physical conditioning needed to hit the right marks, and the thought that those skills could only get better in the next few years likely has teams absolutely salivating.
Like most goaltenders his age, his tracking is still a work in progress, but not by much. And although he’s not the most flexible of the goaltenders available, his overall agility is certainly far from a weak point. All in all, his game is about as close to an elite-level prospect as the position has seen in the last decade-plus.
As the draft gets closer, it seems that the hype around Knight has been building up more and more. The attention for Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko has started to fade in favor of talk about just how high Knight might get selected; while it’s been a near-guarantee that he’ll be a first-rounder for more than a year now, there’s now talk that he could be taken as early as the top 10. That hasn’t been done since Carey Price was taken fifth overall in 2005, and there have only been two goaltenders who came even close to being taken that early in the time since. Given that neither of them — Jonathan Bernier and Jack Campbell, both selected 11th overall in 2006 and 2010, respectively — have inspired much confidence in the position’s highest-rated prospects, it’s understandable that teams have remained cautious.
In this case, though, there’s a ton to love about taking a chance on Knight’s game. He’s already proven that he’s more than ready for NCAA play, which means that there’s very little likelihood that his numbers or development will take a step back next year. And barring a major setback, he should be ready for the pros within a year or two; for a team that desperately needs to see an NHL-caliber goaltender in their future without shelling out for free agent prices, he’s almost a coveted piece at the draft.
It’s tough to really evaluate a goaltender’s mental toughness without getting to know them, but all signs point to Knight being capable of handling the immense amount of pressure he’s set to face when a club brings him on as their heir apparent. After all, that’s exactly what he’s been for the USNTDP, who have been desperately trying to salvage their reputation in the goaltending world. If he’s been capable of handling that weight over the last few years, he’s capable of handling whatever a club throws at him in Vancouver and beyond.
Raw data for this article came from eliteprospects.com and usahockeyntdp.com.
Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Spencer Knight’s page at prospectshifts.com here (paywall).
Goaltender, coach, journalist, and runner. Raising a rambunctious two-year-old in the Phoenix area. Bylines at The Athletic NHL, InGoal Magazine, NHL.com, and more along the way. Specialist in goaltending video and analysis, but great for chats about distance running and New York style pizza in her spare time.