Gregor: Big, two-way centre Corban Knight could really help Edmonton Oilers with this skill set

 

 
 
 
 
Corban Knight
 

Corban Knight

EDMONTON - When you look at the Edmonton Oilers roster, it’s easy to see they need to upgrade their defence, add some speed and grit in their bottom six and find some size, especially down the middle.

When you scan the pending NHL free-agent list, not many names jump out as automatic upgrades. It would be great to sign Jarome Iginla, Nathan Horton or David Clarkson, but the bidding for those three will be fierce and steep.

Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish has already stated he’s leery of overspending in free agency, so he’ll tread lightly in the free-agent waters.

One player that few are talking about is pending free agent Corban Knight. Don’t bother scanning the free-agent list because he isn’t on it. The Florida Panthers drafted him in the fifth round (139th) of the 2009 entry draft, but he’s spent the past four seasons developing his game at the University of North Dakota.

“I’m a two-way centreman who takes pride in both ends of the ice, but I take a lot of pride in the defensive zone,” the six-foot-two, 195-pound centreman said when asked to describe his game.

“Over the last couple of years I’ve become a faceoff specialist, if you call it that, and I’ve worked extremely hard in that area,” the22-year-old, right-shooter said. “I take a lot of pride in my faceoffs. I have a little bit of offensive upside, but if I’m hoping to play in the NHL it will be as a reliable two-way, third-line centre.”

Knight was very poised, polite and extremely humble during our phone interview. I’d say he offers more than just little offensive upside.

He was one of the 10 finalists for the 2013 Hobey Baker Award, handed out annually to the top NCAA men’s hockey player. Knight had a stellar senior year at UND. His accomplishments include:

Finishing in the top 10 in scoring in the nation;

A 19-game point streak, the longest at UND in the last 25 years;

Getting points in 29 games, second most in the nation;

Winning 60 per cent of his faceoffs. In fact, Knight’s past three seasons have been very consistent as he’s averaged 58 per cent in the faceoff dot;

Potting 14 goals and 44 points in 44 games in 2011;

Scoring 16 goals and 40 points in 39 games in 2012

Scoring 16 goals and 49 points in 41 games in 2013.

Knight was very adamant that the strengths of his game are his defensive awareness and faceoffs, but he clearly possesses an offensive touch. He has steadily improved as a player, but he believes college allowed him to grow as a person.

“I’ve always been a late-bloomer, physically. I didn’t get selected in the bantam draft, major junior was never an option for me until I finished my first year of junior A, and by that time I was already committed to UND.

“I was pretty set on going to school. I knew since I was a late bloomer I could develop more in college. When I got there it was a rude awakening; playing against 22- and 23-year-olds who are men while you are a little punk coming out of junior hockey, Knight said, laughing.

“It was definitely a big step for me. It helped me develop both physically and mentally. I put on a lot of weight, grew an inch, and being away from home, going to school and having a lot on your plate really helped me mature.

“It was a great experience for me and it was exactly what I needed for my development,” Knight said.

So why didn’t the Panthers sign the resident of High River?

“After my season finished, we had talks with Florida and negotiations took place, but it turned out it wasn’t going to work out for both parties. We told Florida we were going to wait until free agency (Aug. 15) or a trade,” explained Knight.

The Panthers have drafted Jonathon Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden in the past three years, and they want to give them a shot. After speaking with the Panthers and looking at their depth chart Knight and his agent felt it was in his best interest to test the free-agent market.

Three teams have contacted the Panthers about acquiring Knight, and the Oilers are one of them, according to my sources. Will they sign another top college free agent two years in a row?

Is Knight ready to play in the NHL this season?

“To be honest, four years ago and even two years ago I would tell you there was no chance that I was ready to step into professional hockey, and more specifically the NHL,” said Knight.

“However, with my development at UND I was able to get stronger and more physically mature, and I’ve taken big steps improving my foot speed. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for the NHL and the guys playing there, it is the best league in the world. However, I think if I was able to come into a training camp, have a good camp and get some lucky breaks, I’d like to think I’d have a chance to crack an opening-day roster.”

Currently, Knight has the luxury of training with NHLers, including Oilers forward Jordan Eberle at Crash Conditioning in Calgary.

“It’s awesome to be around guys like Eberle and see how hard they work and what it really takes to be successful at the next level. It is inspiring going to Crash every day and see Jordan, and all the success he’s had, and hoping one day that I can be half as successful as him. It’s pretty cool to be in that environment,” Knight said.

Knight’s hard work and dedication has put him in great position. He will be able to choose an organization that needs his skill set, and Edmonton is definitely in need of a big, two-way centre.

You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the TEAM 1260, read him at oilersnation.com and follow him @jasongregor on Twitter.

 
 
 
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