|Vey shoots on Gibson at camp (photo: C. Ikiri)|
When the Los Angeles Kings used their first selection at the recent NHL Draft to take a goaltender – well, it caught some people off guard.
Sure, everybody’s heard the mantra ‘take the best player available.’
However, the team will most likely have five goaltenders under the age of 26 playing pro hockey next season – two in LA, two in Manchester (AHL) and one in Ontario (ECHL).
Plus, with the market for goaltenders at a low point over the past few summers, was it really necessary to use such a high pick on another goalie at this time?
“I have no opinion on that,” said Kings coach Terry Murray. “Quite honestly, I don’t follow the depth of the organization. That’s not my job. The people upstairs do what they need to do to keep everything in place.”
Murray did admit to being a little confused though when he first met Chris Gibson earlier this week. “He’s a Finn, he speaks English and when I first met him I thought he was French (because of his accent),” the coach explained. After Gibson told him he spoke all three languages, Murray responded with ‘Wow, that’s pretty impressive.’
On the ice, Murray was a little more clear on what the Kings acquired in Gibson. “He’s a very competitive guy. This is an 18-year old player who played a lot, (37) games in the Quebec league last year – on one of the poorer teams in the league. He faced the most shots and still, at the same time, had a pretty high save percentage over the course of the year.”
[note: Even though Gibson’s record was only 14-15-3-5 with the Chicoutimi Sangueens this past season, his 2.42 goals-against-average was second best and .920 save percentage was tops in the QMJHL]
Murray was also impressed with Gibson’s approach to this week’s Development Camp, saying “In the meetings we have with just the goaltenders, he asks very good questions. He studies the game and has a good sense for it. He has a good head on his shoulders.”
When asked to describe his own game, Gibson said “I’m very calm, and that helps me be calm in front of the net. But, I need to work more on the rebound control, too. It’s OK at the major junior level, but maybe not the pro level.” He went on to say “There’s a lot of things I have to work on – get quicker and read the plays better. I guess it comes with time, and I have to work very hard on that.”
As for the physical training, Gibson remarked “It’s really intense here, working with (Kings strength and conditioning coach) Tim Adams. He’s a great guy, but he pushes you to your limits every time. It makes you give everything you have in your body. I like to work hard, so it’s a good thing.”
Although, being in the warm climate of Southern California was a little different for him – “We went to workout on the beach. That was a nice experience,” explained Gibson. “I’ve never done that before.”
Overall, he thought “Everything (came) faster here than in major junior. I really have to get into that, and get that mindset that I’m getting to a higher level, and everything will be faster.”
Which is something Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford spotted right away, saying “It was a little bit overwhelming for the young guy early on, going up against some real high level shooters. I thought he handled himself very well.”
It’s something Ranford tried to help him with, explaining “I kind of broke it down for him when he was going up against the forwards” – and then listed Kings prospects Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Weal, Linden Vey and Brandon Kozun as four of the guys he saw as the biggest threat to Gibson. “So, it’s not chump change that he’s been going up against. It’s been a real good challenge for him.”
That said, was it good for him to be tested like that so early in camp? “It does help him get quicker and faster. He’s had to make some slight adjustments,” said Ranford. “He’s very raw, and that’s what we’re excited about. He’s got great upside with his athletic ability, but there’s a lot of rawness to his game that gives us the opportunity over the next couple of years to work with him.”
What’s on the immediate agenda to try and fix with him? “I think just receiving the rush,” Ranford explained. “We talked about making small adjustments on his angles – angle maintenance, cleaning up tracking the puck behind the net. Realistically, the big thing we really tried to focus on early in this camp was habits. I have very high expectations with habits, and attention to detail, and that’s really what we worked on with him for the first three days – just habits, habits, habits. Finish every save, post save on everything. Just really cleaning up his habits.”
Was Gibson picking up on what Ranford and the other coaches were teaching him? “He was very receptive and that’s huge,” offered Ranford. “You need somebody who is willing to make changes in their game. By no means do I try and change goalies. I just try and build on what they have. (We’re focusing) more on his habits and attention to detail. That’s what I expect out of my guys.”
On the positive side, here’s what Ranford liked about Gibson’s game so far – “His athletic ability, he’s got a real nice set of hands. His ice awareness and reading plays. That’s already there pretty good. With the combination of those things we have some some real good building blocks to move ahead on.”
Does Gibson agree with the assessments from the Kings coaches or does he see himself as ready for the NHL? “I find myself still pretty far away right now,” he said.
Gibson will return to LA in September for Rookie Camp and then it’s back to the ‘Q’ for another season of junior hockey.
We’ll wrap up the Development Camp series on goaltenders with notes and quotes on JF Beruebe next…followed by more interviews with the forwards and defensemen.
Until then, feel free to check out some other camp articles linked below.