Even with Chris Driedger now gone after being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the Florida Panthers still have question marks in the goal crease heading into the 2021-22 season. With Sergei Bobrovsky’s numbers taking a major dip ever since his arrival to South Florida, and Spencer Knight having only four career regular-season starts, neither of the two goaltenders has the starting spot locked up.
With over a month left until the regular season starts, let’s take a look a the two candidates for the starting job, and what needs to go right for them to lead the Panthers onto the ice on Oct. 14 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bobrovsky is the favorite to earn the starting nod – for now. He played most of Florida’s games last year, starting 30 of Florida’s 56 games. He struggled at times over the season, going 19-8-2 with a .906 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.91 goals-against-average (GAA.) While he was reliable at times for the Panthers, he has been nowhere near the goaltender Florida thought they were getting when they signed him to a seven-year, $70 million contract in July 2019.
During his first season in Florida in 2019-20, Bobrovsky went 23-19-6 with a .900 SV% and a 3.23 GAA, a far cry from his 2018-19 season, which saw him finish ninth in Vezina Trophy voting and lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first-ever playoff series win. He went 37-24-1 with a .913 SV% and a 2.58 GAA in the regular season, and 6-4 with a .925 SV% and a 2.41 GAA during the playoffs.
When the NHL returned to play in July 2020 and the Panthers played against the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Bobrovsky posted a horrid 1-3 record with a .901 SV% and a 3.07 GAA. His playoff futility followed into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, after he went 1-2 in the games he started, with a .841 SV% and a 5.33 GAA. He was ultimately taken out for Driedger, who also eventually got replaced by Knight.
Bobrovsky has a lot to prove next season, especially after his 2020-21 season ended on such a horrid note. He proved in the past that he could be a capable franchise goaltender, winning the Vezina Trophy and finishing third in Hart Trophy voting win 2016-17 with a 41-17-5 record, .931 SV%, and 2.06 GAA. However, his numbers have been sharply declining since then and he hasn’t shown any signs of bouncing back.
If Bobrovsky is to keep the starting job, he is going to have to prove that he is worth the $10 million annual price tag he carries and show that he can return to form this season, whether that’s during preseason or early on in the regular season.
Knight is seemingly the underdog heading into this battle, having only played four regular season NHL games in his career. He won all four of them, boasting a .919 SV% and a 2.32 GAA. When called upon in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs he answered the bell, going 1-1 with a .933 SV% and a 2.06 GAA in the Panthers’ first round defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He was most impressive in game five, which also doubled as his first career playoff start in the NHL. The Panthers had their backs against the wall and were down 3-1 in the series, and after allowing the first shot of the game following a defensive miscommunication, he stopped the remaining 36 Lightning shots to earn the victory for Florida. He allowed three goals on 23 shots in game six, which ended Florida’s season prior to the second round of the playoffs for the 25th year in a row.
Knight lacks the NHL sample size, but he has shown that he can handle playing at big stages, specifically at the IIHF World Junior Championship last year. He went 5-1-0 with a whopping .940 SV% and 1.63 GAA, winning the gold medal for Team USA after posting 34-save shutout in a 2-0 win against a Team Canada that outscored opponents 41-4 heading into that game.
During the 2020-21 season with Boston College, he posted a 16-4-1 record with a .932 SV% and a 2.18 GAA before arriving in Florida on March 31.
He has shown that he has the ability to dominate at every level, but Knight’s transformation into an NHL talent starts on Sept. 10 at the Panthers’ Development Camp. He will have ample time to keep growing more and more comfortable in the crease against Florida’s prospects before it’s time for NHL Training Camp.
If he shows that he has what it takes at the NHL level during camp and preseason, and Bobrovsky doesn’t show any signs of improvement, Knight could be the Panthers’ knight in shining armor, leading them out on the ice for the start of the 2021-22 season. However, the lack of NHL experience still leaves him as a dark horse heading into the season.
Either way, if Bobrovsky hits a road bump, the Panthers’ goaltender of the future could become their starting goaltender of the present at any point this season.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.