American-born John Gibson has long been hailed as a future All-Star caliber goaltender for the Anaheim Ducks.
No one expected it to happen this quickly though.
Rewind to the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs: Frederik Andersen, after a strong regular season and first 2 1/2 rounds, was torched by the Chicago Blackhawks. A sharp angle goal by Jonathan Toews from way out in the corner at the United Center seemed to effectively deflate Anaheim’s collective resolve.
That summer, Anaheim general manager Bob Murray went out and signed a quality veteran backup in Anton Khudobin. With that signing and despite Andersen’s difficult end to the season, the door felt like it was closing on Gibson’s chances at being the starter in 2015-16.
At least momentarily.
Fast forward to training camp: Murray signed the 22-year old impending restricted free agent Gibson to a three year, $6.9 million dollar extension.
Andersen, also an impending RFA, received no such extension. It would have been reasonable to assume at the time that Gibson would be the man in Anaheim’s net.
Yet, the Ducks started their season with Andersen and Khudobin up in Anaheim while Gibson would continue his development with the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League.
A sound strategy at face value, it backfired and Anaheim’s goalie situation quickly fell on its face after a horrid start to the season.
To begin the year, Andersen played exceptionally well through the rest of the team’s atrocious play. As the Ducks began turning the corner in early November, Andersen’s play faltered and Khudobin couldn’t pick up the slack.
Anaheim held firm through fan uproar, leaving Gibson in the minors.
Then November 24th came along, a day that might prove to be pivotal in franchise history.
Andersen, out with “flu-like symptoms”, would not travel with the team to Calgary. Gibson would be called up that day, though only to fill in as a backup until Andersen recovered from his flu.
That night, Gibson went on to stop 19 of 20 shots after relieving the floundering Khudobin. Anaheim won that game thanks to Gibson’s steady play, and would win the following night in Arizona with Gibson as the starter.
Technically a rookie, he’s never looked back since that fateful call-up, posting a gaudy .935 save percentage at even strength while providing that big save ability that Anaheim sorely lacked up to that point.
Does John Gibson Deserve The All-Star Nod
January 7th: the National Hockey League announced its All-Star selections and Gibson was selected as a representative for the Pacific Division. Quite the turn of events.
Sure, the crop of goaltenders in the Pacific might be the weakest in the entire league. But is Gibson truly deserving of the honor? It’s worth examining.
Since November 1st, the Ducks have allowed the second fewest shot attempts against per 60 minutes in the entire league. To boot, they’ve allowed the second fewest scoring chances against per 60 minutes in the NHL in that same time-span.
Those are some staggering numbers, showing how their defensive game has risen to an elite level. Now, they still have trouble scoring, but that’s a separate issue.
Has Gibson simply been the beneficiary of good team play? There’s no doubt it’s helped. But he’s also stopping shots at an above-average rate, giving the Ducks a chance to win on any given night. His calm demeanor has to instill some confidence in his teammates, that they can rely on him in any situation. When called upon, he can use his freakish athleticism to smother dangerous scoring chances.
The numbers back it up: Gibson’s save percentage on high quality shots sits at .867, while Andersen’s is .858. That fraction of a difference can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Yes, the Pacific has few elite-level goaltenders, but John Gibson has emphatically made a case for himself in that regard. He’s been a key part of the Ducks’ resurgence from the bottom of the standings, making him fully deserving of All-Star status. Looks like the Ducks may not have to spend too much time figuring out their goalie situation after all.
Felix Sicard is the Anaheim Ducks’ Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. Now in his third season of covering the team, he writes previews and recaps for all Ducks’ home games, as well as weekly analysis pieces.
In addition to covering the Ducks at THW, Felix co-hosts SB Nation’s Anaheim Calling: The Podcast, as well as hosting The Garage Hockey Podcast.
For consistent Ducks’ content, be sure to check out his Twitter @Felix_Sicard.