We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Florida Panthers NCAA prospect Corban Knight, currently the top centerman for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Knight, selected in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by Florida, is in his junior year at UND and growing into the player the Panthers hoped he would become. After a great sophomore season in which he was the second-leading scorer for the Sioux and helped lead them to a Frozen Four appearance, Knight has continued to mature and refine his game, and despite missing three games this season he sits third in scoring on the team and has played some of his best hockey of late, picking up 2 assists in a back-to-back series this weekend against Wisconsin. Interview after the jump...
CK - I would say I'm kind of a two-way centerman, I like to take care of my defensive end and I take pride in that, but at the same time offensively I like to try to make stuff happen. I'd say I'm more of a playmaker than a shooter; I like to try to set guys up, but I would say I'm a two-way center that likes to play a physical game. So I'd say that's my style of play.
How interesting and fun has it been to not only be drafted by an NHL team, but have guys like Dale Tallon or Scott Luce follow your career closely?
It's been amazing. Since I got drafted by the Panthers, it's been unbelievable how they've treated me. They're just a very classy organization and that starts with Mr. Tallon all the way through. I've actually gotten the chance to meet Mr. Tallon and Mr. Luce at camp in the summer and they were just great guys. I just really appreciated how they run their organization there; it's very straightforward and they do things the right way. I definitely feel very fortunate to be with this organization.
Have any of the folks from the Panthers organization given you direction on what they'd like to see from you this year?
Yea, when I was at development camp in the summer they gave me their thoughts, and they just wanted me to keep improving in all aspects of my game, and with the place I'm at now in North Dakota it gives me the opportunity. They just wanted me to continually work on getting stronger and faster and those are kind of the two areas they'd like to see me improve on. So that's something that I've been trying to do over the last little while and I plan on continuing to do it for the rest of my career.
Big games coming up this weekend against Wisconsin. How do you go about preparing yourself for a game and do you have any pre-game rituals or routines?
It's going to be a huge weekend for our team, especially against a rival like Wisconsin, it's always fun when they come to our building. It's going to be a big weekend in order to set us up for the stretch here. For pregame rituals, I'm not really a very superstitious guy; I just kind of tape my stick and hang out with the guys, just do the normal warmup and stuff. I don't have any really crazy, whacky rituals that I have to stick to.
What's it like playing with fellow Panther draft pick Rocco Grimaldi? Do you ever discuss playing together for the Panthers in the future?
Yea, it's been great. Unfortunately he's been injured for a lot of the season, so I know it's been tough for him. Just trying to be there for him and just talk to him and stuff; we've really grown to have a good relationship. I think we've both discussed it before, maybe the chance to continue to be teammates with the Florida organization. I think we're both extremely excited and fortunate to be with an organization like the Panthers.
You're one of the elder statesmen on the team at UND this season and an assistant captain. How important is it to have that leadership presence for the younger players on the team, and how comfortable are you with that role?
We do have an extremely young team and a very talented team, but like you said, we're young and we had a lot of growing pains earlier in the year. Being one of the older guys on the team and one of the assistant captains, it's your job to help them get comfortable as quick as they can so they can play to their full potential. It was an honor to find out that I was named one of the captains. It was unexpected but I feel very honored and privileged to be able to do that, so it's been a very good experience for me and I think I've grown as a person and as a hockey player through having that kind of responsibility. It's been great.
At this point, have you made any decisions in regards to your future intentions at UND? Thinking about making the jump to pro hockey, or will you be back for your senior year?
At this point, it's such a hard decision. I love it here so much but at the same time, being in Florida this last summer, it was an eye-opening experience to see how an NHL team is run. Obviously it's every hockey player's dream to play in the NHL and if I was able to get that chance, I don't know if I could pass it up. It's one of those things where I think I'm going to have to see how our season ends out and then talk with my family and the coaches here, and with the Florida personnel, and make sure I make the right decision for my career, for the team here in North Dakota, and for the Florida organization.
Hockey's Future and several scouts have you defined as a "pest" type of player. Would you agree with that statement, and is there any current NHL player who could maybe compare yourself to?
*laughs* I don't think I've ever actually been called a pest before by anybody, but I think that's great to have as a hockey player. Usually pests are guys that work hard and are able to get under the opponent's skin, so I think that's kind of a good label to have on you. To compare myself to guys in the NHL, I don't know... Ryan Kesler is one guy I really look up to. Being a right-handed centerman like myself, kind of having the same size and stature, I think he's the kind of guy that really plays the game well and plays the game the way he's supposed to. I think he's a guy I try to model myself after; I don't know if I actually play like him or not but that's one of the guys I look up to and try to take notes from when I watch him play.
There are a ton of guys that made it to the NHL after playing collegiate hockey at UND, which is a school rich in a winning hockey tradition. How motivated are you to become another one of those guys who reaches the NHL, and what will it take to get there?
Coming from this program here in North Dakota, I feel like it's the best place to come and get ready for the next step. I think the track record here speaks for itself and so do the players they've produced here. I think I need to continually work hard but work smart too. Always listen to the guys in the Florida organization and the coaches here, and what things they think I need to improve upon, and try to improve in the small areas of the game. I feel like once you get to the next level, little mistakes you make at the college level will be big mistakes at the NHL level. I think just trying to eliminate those little mistakes from my game, and trying to become more of a complete and consistent hockey player.
It was a very cool experience to be able to take part and it was my first ever camp with the Florida organization. It is a little bit nerve wracking knowing that you have guys like Mr. Tallon and Mr. Luce and Mr. Skrudland kind of looking at you and seeing what you're made of. At the same time, they make it a very relaxing environment there; they really make you feel comfortable and confident with the way they approach you and talk with you. It was a very cool experience and something that I am definitely glad I was able to take part in.
Did you get to know the other guys and stay in touch?
A couple guys that I play against in the [collegiate] league, obviously Nick Bjugstad's on our rival team Minnesota, I've already played against him four times this year. It's good to kind of talk on the ice a little bit. There's a couple other guys in college hockey that you play against and cross paths with, so it was kind of cool to meet those guys and get to know them off the ice as friends. When you're on the ice, they're usually your enemy, but once you get off the ice it's nice to get to know the guys.
Do you get a chance to watch pro hockey often? How closely do you follow the Panthers?
Yea absolutely. We're lucky to have the NHL Network; in our house we're always watching hockey, it's always on our TV, we're checking stats on our computers. My life kind of revolves around that so I love it. With the Panthers, it's been good with the success they've had this year, it's been awesome because they're always talking about them and bringing games up on the internet. I've been able to watch them numerous times this year and it's been very cool.
What are your favorite things to do when you've got free time?
I love sports, obviously hockey, but I'm a big golfer and I love to play tennis, all those summer sports. In the winter, whether it's going to shoot hoops at the court here, I just enjoy all different sports.
Growing up, which NHL team were you a fan of, and who was your favorite player and why?
Growing up I was a Vancouver Canucks fan. I was born out in British Columbia and all my family is from there, so we were big Canucks fans growing up. My favorite player was Trevor Linden. I looked up to him and idolized him, I thought he was just The Man. When it came to on and off the ice, I really had a lot of respect for him and the way he played the game.
Where do you keep your draft jersey?
It's at home, hanging up downstairs in our basement. I think my parents hung it up there the second I got home from the draft. I think my parents are extremely proud of it, as am I to get drafted by a team like Florida. It's a prized possession in our house.
Any advice for younger hockey players looking to make their own path to the NHL?
For me, I kind of had a different path. I was always kind of a late bloomer physically and I was never on an elite team growing up until I turned 17, so I would just say that you make sure you stay positive and never think it's over because there's always a chance. Something could happen; a spot might open up on a team where you get a shot, you might have your chances to make something happen. Just keep working hard and never get down or dejected because things aren't going your way. You have to persevere through it.
- Special thanks to Corban and Jayson Hajdu, Assistant AD/Media Relations at UND, for their cooperation. It was an absolute pleasure conversing with Corban and wish him the very best down the road. Check out his Twitter account @CorbanKnight, and hit up the Fighting Sioux hockey feed at @UNDMHockey for even more coverage. Lastly, check out this awesome video focusing on Corban and the UND hockey club on their journey through the season. Fantastic stuff.