In the history of the Calgary Flames, they’ve selected goaltenders in the first round four times. It hasn’t gone well. But should they consider a netminder at 26th overall, Spencer Knight would be the player they select. Would he be a worthwhile gamble?
In the scouting community, Knight is far and away considered the top goaltender in the 2019 draft class. He’s put together an impressive resume at a young age and been a key component of one of the stronger runs for the U.S. National Development Program in its history.
The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy provided an early season update on Knight’s year:
The top netminding prospect in the 2019 draft, Knight has lived up to reputation by going 4-0 with a .955 save percentage for the NTDP so far. The big Boston College commit’s latest gem was a 36-save win over Notre Dame, the third-ranked NCAA team in the nation.
Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects dug in deep on Knight’s full season with his evaluation:
Knight has continued to be the backbone for The Program. He’s been nearly unbeatable against USHL competition, but it’s his performances against NCAA Division I schools and on the international scene are what have really stood out. His .916 save percentage in 20 USNTDP contests rivals some of the best season-long performance in the history of The Program. He appears to be a lock for the first-round this June with an eye towards being the first goaltender selected in the top-15 since Jack Campbell in 2010. Knight is off to Boston College in the fall.
Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst provided another detailed drill-down into Knight’s game:
Easily the most heralded North American goalie prospect since Carey Price some 14 years prior, Knight is looking to buck the draft trend of teams taking goalies no earlier than the late first round. Blessed with size, quickness and an intense desire to succeed, the Connecticut-born backstop who grew up idolizing Jonathan Quick is more stylistically similar to Price and Henrik Lundqvist – cool and calm with noticeable confidence as he makes difficult saves look routine. Knight has strong wrists and is an incredible puck handler, possibly more advanced than Ron Hextall during his draft year and more active than Martin Brodeur was in 1990.
It’s hard to evaluate goaltenders, but those that dare to seem to believe that Knight is the cat’s meow.
Knight’s been turning heads for awhile, dating back to his strong performance with the Avon Old Farms prep school as a 15-year-old. The 2018-19 season was his second with the National Development Team and playing against USHL opposition; his save percentage has been pretty consistent between the two seasons, but his goals against average dropped from around 3.00 to around 2.30 between the two seasons.
Compared to other USHL goaltenders, the comparisons are to one other goaltender: Tri-City’s Isaiah Saville. Knight plays for a National Development Team that plays an up-tempo offensive game, and tends to give up strong chances when they do have breakdowns. Saville has slightly strong numbers, but the nature of being goaltender for Team USA may have deflated Knight’s stat line a bit. (And even with that potential deflation, his numbers were strong.)
Availability and fit
We’ll get into the utility of drafting a goaltender in the first round elsewhere. If the Flames want Knight, they’re going to have to hope he slides to them at 26th overall. Most of the major rankings have him going before they pick: ISS has him outside the first round, Dobber Prospects has him 21st, the Draft Analyst/Sporting News has him 21st, my rankings at The Hockey Writers have him 32nd, Sportsnet has him 18th, The Athletic has him 45th (their other ranking is skaters-only), and The Hockey News has him 19th.
The Flames’ goaltending depth beyond the NHL level is weak – it’s very dependent on Tyler Parsons having a bounce-back season and Artyom Zagidulin being the second coming of David Rittich. They probably want to draft one this year to have in the pipeline. Drafting a goaltender early is a gamble, but Knight’s performance in high level hockey thus far should give observers confidence that he can keep moving his development in the right direction.
Well, as much confidence as you can have in a 18-year-old goaltender.
2019 first round targets