Florida Panthers

This is why the Panthers might pick up a goalie in the first round of the NHL Draft

Panthers get Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville

Florida Panthers get legendary new head coach Joel Ouenneville two days after their season ended and missing the playoffs.
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Florida Panthers get legendary new head coach Joel Ouenneville two days after their season ended and missing the playoffs.

This could be the year the Florida Panthers finally draft a goalie in the first round.

It has never happened in club history, which dates back to 1993. But a few mock drafts have the Panthers selecting Spencer Knight, an 18-year-old goalie who is set to begin his career at Boston College this fall.

The Panthers have the 13th pick in this year’s draft, which will be held June 21-22 in Vancouver, and goalie is a position of need.

Only three teams allowed more goals than the Panthers this past season. Starting goalie Roberto Luongo is 40, and his 3.12 goals-against average was his highest in 19 years. Backup goalie James Reimer, 31, had a 3.09 GAA.

The Panthers are expected to make a run at two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, an impending free agent from the Columbus Blue Jackets. But drafting their goalie of the future might also be part of Florida’s plan in Vancouver.

It appears to be a lock that the two superstar prospects in this year’s draft — forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko – will be selected by the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, respectively.

After that, however, the next 12 or so prospects are rated pretty evenly, and that includes Knight, who is considered the No. 1 goalie in the draft.

A native of Connecticut, the 6-3, 200-pound Knight’s style has been compared to Montreal Canadiens star Carey Price — high praise.

“Explosive side to side,” is how the Elite Prospects scouting report on Knight reads. “He plays with calmness, eats up rebounds. He keeps his movements tight – solid butterfly goalie … communicates well.”

Knight just led Team USA to a silver medal at the Under-18 World Championships. He posted a tournament-best .936 save percentage and a 1.51 GAA.

Goalies tend to develop later than forwards and defensemen, which explains why the Panthers have drafted just eight of them in the second or third rounds since ‘93. Of those eight, only Samuel Montembeault, drafted in the third round in 2015, is on the current NHL roster. Montembeault, 22, made his NHL debut last season (3.04 GAA in 11 games).

None of those seven other goalies made a significant impact with the Panthers. However, two of those goalies — 1993 second-rounder Kevin Weekes and 2008 second-rounder Jacob Markstrom — proved to be useful. Weekes was traded for Pavel Bure, who had two 50-plus-goal seasons for the Panthers; and Markstrom was sent to Vancouver in the deal that brought back Luongo.

As to whether first-round goalies work out or go bust … there’s evidence in each category.

Two of the past five Vezina winners were first-rounders — Price and Tuukka Rask. Cory Schneider, Marc-Andre Fleury, Semyon Varlamov and Cam Ward are among other first-round success stories.

There have also been numerous first-round-goalie busts — forgettable names such as Brent Kahn, Riku Helenius, Chet Pickard and Marek Schwarz.

THIS AND THAT

Panthers winger Juho Lammikko, who made his NHL debut this past season with no goals and six assists in 40 games, won a gold medal while playing for Finland last week at the 2019 World Championships in Slovakia.

Finland beat Canada 3-1 in the title game. In the semifinals, Finland beat a loaded Russia squad 1-0. Russia featured Panthers winger Evgeni Dadonov as well as NHL superstars Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Nikita Kucherov.

Panthers forward Frank Vatrano played for Team USA, which lost to Russia 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

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