In February of 2023, Spencer Knight entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to receive help with managing obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The 2019 first-round pick was away from the Panthers for the remainder of their season as he sought help and worked with experts in the field.

As he prepared to make his return to the ice at the start of this season, there was still an air of uncertainty for the young netminder.

“Coming into the year I honestly had no idea what was going to happen,” said Knight.

What ended up happening was a triumphant return for the 23-year-old, who starred for the Checkers all season and enjoyed himself along the way.

“It was refreshing just to be able to play,” he said. “To me, that was honestly the highlight - just playing. That’s the one thing I didn’t take for granted this year - being able to be on the ice and play. It was fun. It was great.”

Knight spent the entirety of the season in Charlotte - giving the Checkers a workhorse between the pipes and giving the netminder a sense of stability as he worked his way back into the routines of a pro hockey season.

“Coming here was great for my process,” said Knight. “I’m in a good spot where I can keep growing, as a person and as a hockey player. I have a lot of people to thank in this organization for giving me the opportunity to play here.”

Along with the support of the Panthers organization as a whole, the Checkers staff worked closely with Knight to put him in a position to succeed.

“They’ve been great and super supportive,” said Knight. “We’re all learning as we go. For me, it’s all learning - every day, everything is just a new experience that I think you can put into the bank a little bit and go through. Whether it’s good or bad, I think it’s going to serve me better in the end.”

“It was a pleasure to have Spencer Knight here and to be a part of his process,” said head coach Geordie Kinnear. “He has a process and a path, and you have to embrace the path that you’re on. I’m proud of Knighter.”

Knight’s process covered his play on the ice as well. Regardless of the results, he took the same approach to every game - a similar mantra to the one that Kinnear and the coaching staff had drilled into the team from day one - and that commitment paid off. Knight finished the season in the AHL’s top 10 for goals-against average, tied for third in shutouts and spent stretches during the back half of the year as one of the league’s most dominant netminders.

“I tried to embrace that,” said Knight of his even-keeled approach to goaltending. “I think being able to play more games and having to do it more repetitively strengthened that. When you go through that so many times and go through so many games and the process - give up good goals, bad goals, have bad games, good games - you learn that you kind of keep chipping away and keep going. That was something that I’ll take on with me whererever I go next.”

At the end of the season Knight was named the winner of the Fred T. Hunt Memorial Award - an honor voted on by coaches, players and media members and given to the AHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedication to hockey.

While acknowledging the honor, Knight is quick to downplay the individual accolades.

“I’m just kind of on my own path,” said Knight. “It’s obviously nice to see. I hope I can serve as an inspiration a little bit, but I’m probably not going to be the last person that has to go through something hard.”

Knight is aware of the spotlight on him, but rather than letting his diagnosis define him, he’s ready to enjoy his life and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

“I’m not someone who’s going to talk much about all the little details of what goes on in my own life,” said Knight. “For me, honestly, the best thing I can do to show people and motivate people is maybe just be my own self and not even really make it an emphasis on my own life. I can be a really good hockey player and have a fun life, a really great life despite everything else. Not making it such a big priority - that’s more of an inspiration than making it a big deal. I hope I can serve more as an inspiration.”

For now Knight is headed to Florida (“Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do”), then he’ll head into the offseason and prepare for whatever next season holds in store for him.

“Considering I just turned 23, I think I have years of my best hockey ahead of me,” said Knight. “That’s the cool thing, I’m trying to take in as much information, as much learning as I can, so I can ultimately be the best player I can on the ice.”

It’s all part of the process, and it’s a process that has Knight rejuvenated and ready to take another step.

“I’ll come refreshed and ready for the next year,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m excited. I kind of want to start right now.”