Why John Gibson Needs Another Year in the AHL


We were all swept up in a storm.

John Gibson, a 20-year old phenom from Pittsburgh made his NHL debut as the Anaheim Ducks made their final push for supremacy in the Western Conference. The stakes were high, the competition was stiff, and nobody knew what to expect from Gibson, the 39th overall pick in the 2011 draft.

He surprised just about everybody. Coming in to relieve an injured Frederik Andersen. Gibson posted an 18-save shutout against the Vancouver Canucks.

A few days later, Gibson recorded 36 saves in a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks. That game allowed the Ducks to clinch the Pacific Division, and destined the Sharks to face the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs – which didn’t go terribly well for the Sharks.

Gibson made one more start before Andersen recovered. After sitting out the first round against the Dallas Stars, Gibson was called upon once again when Andersen was injured once again. In his first career playoff start, he shut out the Los Angeles Kings 2-0, recording 28 saves in the process.

After a solid performance in Game 5, John Gibson put forth a solid effort in Game 6, but he allowed an easily stoppable Trevor Lewis shot to trickle through his legs in the second period. That goal made the difference, and the Kings avoided elimination with a 2-1 victory.

Gibson may have a very high talent ceiling, but if the Ducks rush his development he may never reach it.

In Game 7, Gibson was porous. Playing in front of a shaky defense, Gibson allowed 4 goals in 18 shots (.778) before being pulled in favor of Jonas Hiller.

In the offseason, the Ducks had a choice to make. They had John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, with veteran Jonas Hiller departing for greener pastures.

The Ducks were at one point rumored to be interested in goaltender Ryan Miller, who wanted to play in California to be closer to his wife. However, the Ducks made it clear that they were content to stick with Gibson and Andersen both at the NHL level, functioning in a 1A/1B setup.

The Ducks picked up veteran AHL goaltender Jason LaBarbera in free agency, presumably to backup Igor Bobkov in Norfolk.

This is a huge mistake. John Gibson needs another year in the AHL.

Gibson’s a talented individual. In fact, he may be the premier goaltending prospect in the nation today. But that talent is still very raw.

Sep 25, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

His athleticism reminds many fans of a young Jonathan Quick, only with the positional soundness of a young Tukka Rask. That being said, Gibson still needs to work on his rebound control and his consistency.

Those two things are best developed through practice at a lower level. Gibson could easily land 50-60 starts at the AHL level, or 30-40 in the NHL.

By playing in the NHL, the Ducks also run the risk of hurting Gibson’s confidence. They ran that risk last year by placing Gibson in the pressure cooker of a playoff race, and then of the playoffs itself.

Eventually, John Gibson showed that he wasn’t quite ready for that kind of pressure. What makes GM Bob Murray and Coach Boudreau think that he is ready for it now?

Gibson turned 21 years old this past July. Goalies take a long time to develop. Tukka Rask, Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Semyon Varlamov, and Ryan Miller didn’t reach the 30-game mark until they were 23 years or older. Of the league’s elite netminders, only Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens took on such a heavy load at the NHL level so early in his career.

It seems to me that management is banking on the hope that John Gibson is another Carey Price; or perhaps another Patrick Roy, or some other sort of generational talent. Gibson may have a very high talent ceiling, but if the Ducks rush his development he may never reach it.

So what should the Ducks do?

Frederik Andersen seems like the more sturdy of the two options in net, at least for this season. Bob Murray recently said that he will wait until the 15-20 game mark to reevaluate what to do to improve the team. If he’s smart, he will be looking to add a veteran backup goaltender.

Martin Brodeur has indidcated that he would like to play backup for a competitor, though his contract demands may be unsavory. Ilya Bryzgalov was available until just recently. Ray Emery remains available.

For the sake of the future of the Ducks, let’s not screw this one up. Give John Gibson the time he needs to develop.