CORAL SPRINGS — The Florida Panthers made the decision to send Spencer Knight to the AHL months before they completed the transaction on Friday.
It was not exactly a surprise move.
Knight is coming off of a seven-month absence from the team after a stint in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program due to his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
No matter how well the 22-year-old did, the Panthers knew he needed to get minutes as the starter with the Charlotte Checkers while Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz keep things going in Sunrise.
“This was not a training camp decision. This was something we looked at from the start,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“He has made great progress in his program. He feels good and he looked fantastic in training camp. But we needed to put him in a No. 1 position and then run his program and work on what he has been working on.”
Knight was aware of the plan from the start.
That is not to say Florida did not give him a chance to make the NHL roster.
As hard as it was for Florida to send Knight down after a preseason where he was solid — he had a .918 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against average — the team knew it was the right thing to do for his career.
“He’s got games to play and he is looking forward to getting into that kind of rhythm,” Maurice said.
“But I’m very pleased with his training camp and he looks good.”
Knight has been in good spirits since sharing his story with the Hockey News in September, wanting to be an inspiration for others as he continues his push to become one of the NHL’s best young goaltenders.
“There is nothing to hide,” Knight said.
“I think I will become a better person and player from it and hopefully there is someone out there who will hear my story and hopefully it helps them, too.”
His teammates have noticed positive changes in Knight since he returned from the player assistance program.
Captain Sasha Barkov calls him “Knighter 2.0” after he came in and shined in camp both on and off the ice.
“He was really good in practice and in games,” Barkov said.
“He battles, he competes and he is a great guy. He works really hard and he is one of the most professional guys I have been around. He is at the gym all the time doing something to try to become better.
“He is so much younger than us but you learn from him and it’s obviously good for him to get a lot of games down there. Obviously we are going to be waiting for him to come back.”
Knight’s assignment to Charlotte is just another step in his comeback story.
He believes that all of the work he will put in with the Checkers will only help him grow into the player the Panthers thought he would be when they selected him 13th overall in 2019 as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders.
“We can speculate on how things might go, but one thing I have learned is that I have to be cool with whatever happens,” Knight said when he returned to the team for development camp in July.
“If you are here, great; If you are there, great. If that happens, great. That’s the approach I have to have. I know the skill I have and I don’t doubt that. The skill combined with physical capability, I think I have tremendous skill and can be one of the best goalies in this league.
“I’m still 22. The mentality of embracing the uncertainty and embrace that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you think Florida thought it would be in the Stanley Cup Final in January? But they were, right?
“Who knows what’s going to happen but I am cool with that. I am going to be a better goalie and a better person from that.”
Knight was not the only roster move made by the Panthers on Friday; Matt Kiersted and Grigori Denisenko were among those placed on waivers to be assigned to Charlotte.
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS (4-3)
PRESEASON VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (4-2)
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Radio: None
- Streaming: FloridaPanthers.com
- Previous Exhibition Games: Florida 5, Nashville 0 (Sept. 25); Florida 5, Nashville 2 (Sept. 25); Carolina 4, Florida 1 (Sept. 27); Florida 4, Carolina 2 (Sept. 29); Ottawa 4, Florida 2 (Oct. 1); Tampa Bay 2, Florida 0 (Oct. 3)