Last season, the Anaheim Ducks featured a superb goaltending duo, comprised of Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. This duo might suggest that goaltending is a position of strength for the Ducks, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The Ducks AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, had two goalies with NHL potential competing for playing time last season in Igor Bobkov and Frederik Andersen. The competition will be intensified in Norfolk this fall, as the top prospect in the Ducks organization, John Gibson, starts his first full pro season.
John Gibson enters camp as the favorite to become the number one goalie for the Admirals. At the age of 20 years old, Gibson has already accomplished a great deal in his career. Although he posted modest numbers, he was the starting goalie in each of his two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. His accomplishments in the OHL paled in comparison to his success on the international stage. He has led Team USA to a total of four medals, three gold medals and bronze medal, in various junior tournaments. His best performance was in this year’s World Junior Championships, where he led Team USA to the Gold Medal. He posted a tournament best save percentage of .955 and a goals against average of 1.36, also a tournament best, on his way to being named the tournament’s most valuable player. As Gibson progresses through the AHL and eventually to the NHL, his big game experience will prove invaluable. Although he is not the most gifted athlete, Gibson plays a solid all-around game with a very high compete level, always elevating his game when it matters most. Gibson has the potential to be the number one goalie for the Ducks for a very long time, and his time may come sooner rather than later. This year however, the Ducks might ease him into the pro schedule, rather than giving him a full starter’s workload in his first AHL season. However they proceed, there will be no shortage of opportunities for Gibson to endear himself to the organization and the fan base.
Gibson’s primary competition for the starting job in Norfolk is last year’s starter, Frederik Andersen. Coming into last year, it appeared as though the job was Igor Bobkov’s to lose. To some degree, he did just that, but Andersen’s strong play made the decision that much easier for the team. Andersen is in a very different situation than John Gibson. Andersen is not a very experienced goalie, but rather gets by on his size and athletic ability. His natural ability and his competitiveness have allowed him to be successful thus far, even though he is not a polished product yet. Based on the fact that his developmental goals revolve around improving and refining his technique, it may take him a bit longer to make it to the NHL. At this point, the floor projection for Andersen would be a quality backup goaltender in the NHL. This season, Andersen will likely split starts with Gibson in Norfolk, though that could change if Gibson struggles or if Andersen exceeds expectations for the second season in a row.
The real wild card in the Norfolk goalie competition is Igor Bobkov. The Ducks drafted Bobkov, viewed by many as somewhat of a high-risk, high-reward pick, in the third round of the 2009 draft. Bobkov has all the tools to be great goaltender, but he has yet to put them all together to achieve the results that the Ducks had envisioned. Bobkov entered the 2012-2013 season as the favorite to be Norfolk’s starting goaltender, but because of his inconsistent play, and the emergence of Frederik Andersen, he spent most of the season riding the pine. In 28 games, Bobkov posted an uninspiring 3.13 GAA, with a .903 save percentage. It was his first full season in the AHL, so some of his struggles might be attributed to adjusting to the higher level of competition. That being said, since being drafted in 2009, he hasn’t posted stellar numbers for an entire season at any level, so it has more to do with his level of play than that of the competition. He will likely start the 2013-14 season in the ECHL, but with a solid season, he could get his development back on track. With the goaltending depth in front of him in Anaheim and Norfolk, Bobkov faces an uphill battle to make it to the NHL, but if he can show some of the promise that made the Ducks draft him, he may become valuable trade bait.
For a team that already has an above-average goaltending tandem, the depth of this position in the Anaheim Ducks organization is very impressive. The competition in the minor leagues will help drive the development of all three prospects, just as the competition in the NHL helped the team thrive in the 2013 season. With a young core already in place, one of these young goalies could be the final piece to the puzzle that puts the Ducks over the top and helps bring the Stanley Cup back to Anaheim for the second time in franchise history.