Rookie Watch: Knight, Swayman among goalies making impact

The impact several rookies are making on the NHL is one of the major storylines of the 2021-22 season. Each week, NHL.com will examine topics related to this season’s class in the Rookie Watch.

This week, the top five rookie goaltenders (in alphabetical order):

Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers: Knight (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) is 5-2-1 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in eight games (seven starts). It hasn’t always been smooth, however. When Sergei Bobrovsky was out for two games with an upper-body injury, Knight struggled starting both ends of back-to-back games for the first time, allowing 10 goals on 48 shots in losses at the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils on Nov. 8-9. But the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft rebounded in his next start, making an NHL career-high 45 saves in a 4-1 win against the Devils on Nov. 18; it also was the most saves in a game by a Panthers rookie (Jacob Markstrom, 44 saves, March 21, 2013).

Knight was 4-0-0 with a 2.32 GAA and .919 save percentage in four regular season games and 1-1 with a .933 save percentage in two Stanley Cup Playoff games last season.

“I think any goalie will tell you it’s fun to face more shots,” Knight said. “I approach every game pretty similar. It’s hard, but you try not to think about what’s coming at you. You just focus on you, and whatever happens, happens. Sometimes you get one shot in a period and sometimes you get 20. You’ve just got to find ways to stay even keeled.

“If things go well all the time you’re not going to learn much. That’s how I learn. I kind of put it in my bank and say, ‘I’ve been there, done that.’ It was hard, but I got through it and I went to practice the next day. The more you do that, the more you learn to put it behind you.”

Alex Nedeljkovic, Detroit Red Wings: Nedeljkovic (6-0, 203) leads NHL rookies this season in shots faced (360) and saves (329), and is tied for third in wins (four). In 12 games (10 starts) he has a 2.83 GAA and .914 save percentage. Nedeljkovic was third in voting for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year last season after he went 15-5-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and three shutouts in 23 games for the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes traded him to the Red Wings for goalie Jonathan bernier and a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on July 22.

One of Nedeljkovic’s strengths is his puck-handling ability.

“There’s not a lot of guys in the League that handle it as much as I do,” he said. “I get pretty crazy sometimes. If things look a little weird it’s for good reason. It’s not normal to see a goalie in the corner two or three times a night. I watched Marty Brodeur and Marty Turco do it a lot when I was young. They were some of the best to ever do it.”

Video: [email protected]: Nedeljkovic sprawls and robs Peterson

Dan Vladar, Calgary Flames: Vladar (6-5, 185) has become a solid complement to starter Jacob Markstrom in his first season with the Flames, going 4-0-1 with a 1.57 GAA, .945 save percentage and two shutouts in five games. The 24-year-old leads rookie NHL goalies with a .949 even-strength save percentage. Calgary acquired Vladar in a trade with the Boston Bruins for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft on July 28.

“I’d always watch hockey and watch my stats and stuff like that, and three or four years ago I was like, ‘Stop,'” Vladar said. “I was like, ‘No social media.’ I’m trying to stay away from those things, literally just trying not to think about anything else but my performance and our team performance. It’s easy to get distracted by social media, TV. Or when you see the studio and what they’re talking about, then you start thinking.”

Video: [email protected]: Vladar stops all 27 shots in net tonight

Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers: In his third start of the season and the fourth in the NHL, Skinner (6-4, 206), he made 46 saves in a 2-1 shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 18. The 23-year-old became the fourth Oilers rookie goaltender to make at least 46 saves in a game, joining Devan Dubnyk (52; April 10, 2010), Laurent Brossoit (49; April 9, 2015) and Anders Nilsson (48; Oct. 13, 2015). Skinner, selected by the Oilers in the third round (No. 78) in the 2017 NHL Draft, is 2-2-0 with a 2.08 GAA and .939 save percentage in five games.

“He’s well-liked in our room and has worked hard,” Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. “We talked about it before, he looks like an NHL goaltender and plays like an NHL goaltender. [Winnipeg] was a real good challenge for him. Coming off a tough game in Winnipeg the other night [5-2 loss Nov. 16], we needed a good performance from the goaltender and he stepped up. He wasn’t just good, he was really good right through the shootout. He’s worked hard and he’s waited for his break to get in there, and he jumped in there and did a heck of a job for us.”

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins: The 22-year-old is 5-3-0 with a 2.39 GAA and .908 save percentage in eight games and has formed a good partnership with Linus Ullmark. Swayman allowed five goals in a 6-3 loss at the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 20, but is 4-2-0 with a 2.18 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games since then.

The Bruins selected Swayman in the fourth round (No. 111) in the 2017 NHL Draft, and he made his NHL debut last season, going 7-3-0 with a 1.50 GAA, .945 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 games.

“Jeremy just needs more starts to reach a better balance in his numbers,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “People just look at the numbers and ask what’s going on with him, but we had one bad outing [at Philadelphia] where they capitalized on a lot of their chances. All in all Jeremy’s been a very good goaltender for us and it’s a good competition. Right now he’s a little bit ahead of Ullmark, but it’s still early in the year and that needle has swung a little bit both ways.”

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