Goalies are often considered to be the most unpredictable position for amateur scouts to project a player’s development. Plenty of first round picks have been busts, and a surprising number of goalies taken in the afterthought rounds have grown into regular starters. So naturally, any goaltending prospect with any hype surrounding them is met with a fair amount of skepticism, as well. However, on Monday night, the Anaheim Duck’s John Gibson left no doubt as to why he’s regarded one of the best prospects at any position in hockey.
Gibson, making his first career NHL start, made 18 saves en route to a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. It took the 20-year old Gibson just one game to earn the first shutout of his young NHL career, a feat that hasn’t been done since 2009.
Though he was only tested a mere 18 times in the game (and only nine times in the first two periods combined,) it’s hard not to be impressed by Gibson’s inceptive start in the show. Gibson tracked the puck with an apparent ease throughout the whole 60 minutes, swallowed shots from distance into his equipment limiting rebounds, and stopped the ‘Nucks on several point blank opportunities late in the game when the pressure of the getting the goose egg on the boxscore would have been bearing down on him most.
Before he was drafted out of the U.S. National Top Development Program in the 2nd round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Gibson played in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA with current Ohio University student, Brady Cummings. Cummings, a junior, played with Gibson early in high school on the Pittsburgh Hornets AAA travel hockey program. “Gibby was one of the best players I ever had the chance to play with,” Cummings said. “We knew we had a chance to win any game with him in goal, and it’s crazy now because the Anaheim Ducks get to feel that way now. I can only imagine how nervous he was, but he hid it well and got the win.”
Nerves likely played a role early on in Gibson’s first NHL start, as his movements were sporadic and lacking the strong technique he’s demonstrated between the pipes over the past few years, but as the game went on and the Ducks played lights out in front of him, he settled into the game nicely.
Gibson made three saves on the penalty kill as he and the Ducks successfully nullified three Vancouver power plays in the game.
Gibson didn’t provide much highlight reel material, but came up with two big saves on fellow rookie and 2011 draft selection Nicklas Jensen in the third period. Here’s a look at two of No. 36’s stronger saves of the night: (1), (2)
Speaking of Jensen, the 21-year old Dane may have been Vancouver’s best player on the ice in this game. Jensen recorded the highest Corsi percentage of any of the Canucks’ forwards Monday night (75.0%,) he officially registered only one shot on goal, but it sure seemed like he got more opportunities than that, and he used his speed and smarts to set up multiple scoring chances for teammates, too. Jensen has only three goals and three assists in 15 games with Vancouver this season, but a breakout sophomore campaign may be in order next season.
Anaheim’s headlining rookie this season, Hampus Lindholm, left his mark in the game as well. After fumbling the puck and turning it over to Ryan Kesler on the power play midway through the first period, Lindholm hustled back and denied Kesler the chance to even get a shot off on what looked like a sure breakaway opportunity on Gibson. He finished the game even in the plus/minus category, but his +27 on the season remains one of the highest in league history for a rookie defenseman. Lindholm is still on the outside of the bubble in terms of landing one of the three nominations for the Calder Trophy, and he’s likely to stay there unless he can really impress in the final few games of the season that remain.
Nobody is clamoring for Gibson to take Jonas Hiller’s starting job with the Ducks after one game. In fact, one would be crazy to even suggest he should take Frederik Andersen’s spot as back-up moving forward this season. Tonight was about a peak into the Ducks’ future, and if their future in goal didn’t look bright enough before Monday night, a 1.000 save percentage from their top prospect after one game is more than reassuring.