COHEN: Who gets picked first, Hunter Jones or Spencer Knight?
First-round goalies are becoming a rare commodity. Last season there wasn’t one. In 2017, Dallas drafted Jake Oettinger with the 26th overall pick. In 2016 there wasn’t one and in 2015, Washington took Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick. This year there’s a slight chance both Spencer Knight and Hunter Jones could both go in the first round. Most likely it will be just one? Which one?
NHL teams are still willing to draft a goalie in the first round, but they must be a cut above the rest of their peer group, especially if one goes in the Top 10. You can’t afford to make a mistake there and still, the wait for most goalies is going to be 3-5 from the time they’re drafted.
Spencer Knight plays for the NTDP and is committed to Boston College next season. He’s 6-3, around 200 pounds so the measurables are what teams are looking for these days. He went to prep school at Avon Old Farms where quite a few NHL alumni have played including Brian Leetch, Nick Bonino, and Jonathan Quick to name a few.
So far this season he has a .916 save percentage in 20 games. Before that, in International play, he was a part of a gold medal-winning team with the U17 team in 2017-18 and that same season he won a silver in the U18s. This year he was a part of the 2019 U20 that won Silver at the World Junior Championship, but he wasn’t the guy. Still just 17 until April, he has plenty of time to be that guy down the road. But like everything else he’s done at other levels he got the experience under his belt.
Knight, a Connecticut native, plays a solid game. He hugs the post well and really squeezes his pads tight making his five-hole small and not enticing to shoot at. He’s a real battler. He anticipates very well. He is safe with his stick and doesn’t try and do too much with the puck and usually leaves it for his defenseman, Teams appreciate goalies who never give up on a play or potential save. He sees well in traffic and he has a good glove hand. All the tools are there. It will just take some time to make that final step after college.
Hunter Jones plays for the Peterborough Petes in the OHL. At 6-4, just under 194 pounds, he too, has a frame he can add on to and for now still takes up a fair amount real estate in goal. At one point this season he led all OHL goalies in minutes played and saves. That’s very impressive. He’s already showing scouts that he’s able to handle the responsibilities of being a #1 goalie for a team.
Already this season he’s played in 49 games. His backup has played in 16 games. His save percentage is .897, not exactly what you’d want it to be but there’s still some season left. He did open the season with a shutout. He was invited to play in the 2019 Top Prospects Game as well and that’s a great honor for any player, and especially for goaltenders, who get to show off their wares but ultimately give up more goals than a regular game in most cases.
When this Canadian goalie goes into the splits, he does it quickly and makes it very hard to get the puck past him on the ground. He’s good at settling the puck behind the net and doesn’t try and do too much with it just leaving it most times for his defenseman to retrieve. He follows shooters well and has a glove hand that’s fast and he’s able to snare pucks in a crowd with a long reach. His solid positioning always gives him a chance.
He’s had five games this year where he’s had to save 40 or more. He has two shutouts as well.
This is a close battle. Both would be solid choices in the draft and all it really takes is for one team to fall in love with the player. Goalies are hard to come by and teams know the best way to get one is in the draft. It’s a risky proposition for sure but the payoff can be huge.
I have to give the very slight edge to Spencer Knight. I don’t just look at statistics. I think both have excellent chances to be solid NHLers. Both are still developing, and it’s entirely possible Jones can move past him at some point in his career. So much has to do with how you’re doing in your draft year and Knight has looked good in the U18 Five Nations and that might have put him over the top.
The 2019 NHL Draft is getting closer and this goalie battle could heat back up before it’s all said and done.