Spencer Knight is in the midst of preparing for the biggest moment of his life.
On the heels of a bronze medal finish at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championships in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, the netminder from Darien, Connecticut has now shifted his attention to the 2019 NHL Entry Draft next June, where he could become the 10th American goaltender in history to be selected in the first round.
If you ask Knight about the draft process, however, it’s clear he has one goal in mind as he gears up for the next stage of his hockey career: soak it all in, because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“For me the biggest thing has been to really enjoy it,” he said. “Just the interview process, the media, coming up to the combine. No one’s trying to hurt you or make you feel bad, it’s something you should be proud of and you should enjoy.”
On some sites that are in the business of conducting mock drafts, Knight is being projected to go as high as 13 to the Florida Panthers, while others have him towards the bottom of the first round and others have him as an early second rounder. At the moment, he’s ranked the top North American goalie by NHL Central Scouting, and the No. 19 overall prospect by TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
Being in an environment surrounded by rankings and draft projections, Knight admitted he has come across some of this information but acknowledged the importance of the bigger picture.
“I do look at the stuff and know where everyone stands but I don’t take anything from it,” he said. “I’m not trying to get caught up in the rankings or who’s gonna go where, where I’m gonna go. Wherever you go, just enjoy it because you’re playing in the National Hockey League and no matter what, it’s gonna be pretty cool.”
If there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that Knight’s performance (and making plays like this) at the U-18 Worlds last month certainly bolstered his case as a potential first rounder.
The 6-foot-3, 192-pound goalie recorded five wins, including a shutout, and led the tournament in both GAA (1.51) and save percentage (93.62%). Despite a shootout defeat in the semifinals to Russia, Knight was happy his team could rally and defeat rival Canada 5-2 to secure the bronze and bring home a 16th-consecutive medal at the tournament.
“Going to Sweden was a lot of fun, it was really cool,” he said. “I thought we were playing good hockey, our team was playing well, we were having a good time and I think it was just those one-game series’ where it’s one game make or break that can go either way.”
One door closes, but another opens
It’s often said that going to a shootout in an intense back-and-forth game in any situation isn’t the greatest way for things to be decided, as it is a glorified skills competition.
It becomes a particularly unfortunate deciding factor when a spot in a gold medal game is on the line, but Knight opted for the high road when asked about his thoughts on the semifinal loss.
“In those make or break games when it’s move on or you’re done, it’s a great way to win but a horrible way to lose,” he said. “Obviously it is what it is, it’s not like one team is being favored in any way, it’s just hockey. Either way I think we just came up a little short. It sucks, but it is what it is.”
When the final buzzer sounded in the U.S.’s victory over the Canadians, it not only signified the end of the tournament for Knight and the rest of his team, but also the last time several American players would take the ice together on this stage.
As a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program since 2017, Knight was gifted the chance to play in the same lineup as some of the top talent in his age group the country had to offer, as well as go up against the brightest young stars from around the world.
Just in his own locker room, there was Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras, amongst several others. Hughes has been the consensus No. 1 pick in 2019 for a while now, while Caufield, the tournament MVP, and Turcotte are both locks to be drafted next month in the first round.
Knight knows it makes his job easier in between the pipes when guys like Hughes and Caufield are leading the charge offensively, but also made it clear the depth of the roster runs deeper than the first couple of lines.
“Having guys like that is obviously special,” Knight said. “The thing is it’s not just our top four guys, along the whole board they’re all really good players and I thought we had a really deep team.”
“For me,” he added, “playing with them was special and I think coming down to the wire we knew our two years were coming to an end, so it was like might as well enjoy it and do what we’ve been doing the whole time.”
As if the bond between them wasn’t already strong enough, Knight and the aforementioned players will be linked forever as the Americans selected in the 2019 draft.
“It just speaks to the program, the USHL and stuff like that,” Knight said. “It’s a trust the development process. You look at the people who are in the NHL now who are Americans who’ve played here, it’s a good route to take. I think for our team we were all just trying to get each other better, but it’s pretty cool to see the USA flag next to a couple of these names.”