If it wasn’t already appointment viewing whenever the 29-12-5 Florida Panthers hit the ice, tonight will bring even more excitement and intrigue. Spencer Knight, one of the very best goaltending prospects in the world, will make his NHL debut at the tender age of 20. Head coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that the young netminder would be starting tonight, saying “he’s ready for it. Looking forward to seeing how he handles it.”
For breaking a new goaltender into the league, there may be no better opponent than the Columbus Blue Jackets these days. The team has lost six in a row and fallen below the Detroit Red Wings for last place in the Central Division. All things equal the Panthers should be able to handle Columbus with almost anyone in net, though that certainly won’t calm any of the nerves for Knight.
Selected 13th overall in 2019, Knight absolutely dominated in his two years at Boston College, posting a 39-12-3 record in 54 games and registering a .931 save percentage. He was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award this year and backstopped the U.S. World Junior squad to a gold medal. Knight is big–he stands a legitimate 6’3″–athletic and usually seems ahead of the play as he slides fluidly around the crease. All of those skills will be tested at the NHL level, but as Quenneville says, he’s ready for it.
The most interesting part of this debut coming so soon though is what it means for the Panthers going forward. The team is locked into Sergei Bobrovsky at a $10MM cap hit through the 2025-26 season and the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has played well of late, seemingly rediscovering his game after a brutal year. Still, the inconsistency he has shown during his time in Florida has to be worrying to the new front office, which has their eyes set on contending for a Stanley Cup not only this year but for the next several. If Knight (or Chris Driedger, who has significantly outplayed Bobrovsky but is a free agent at the end of the season) can take the reins, even a huge contract shouldn’t stand in his way.