EL SEGUNDO, CA — During the Los Angeles Kings 2011 Development Camp for their young prospects, goaltender Chris Gibson, who was the Kings’ second round pick (49th overall) just weeks before, looked a bit overwhelmed in goal as he was picked apart during one of the scrimmages.
“It was a little bit overwhelming for the young guy early on, going up against some real high level shooters,” said goaltending coach Bill Ranford last July. “I thought he handled himself very well.”
“I kind of broke it down for him when he’s going up against the forwards,” added Ranford. “You’ve got [Tyler] Toffoli, who was the top scorer in the Ontario League. You’ve got [Jordan] Weal, who was in the top five in the Western Hockey League the last two years. [Linden] Vey was the top scorer in the Western Hockey League this year. Then you’ve got a guy like [Brandon] Kozun, who was a top scorer two years ago, and finished second the previous year [in the WHL], and [just finished his rookie season] in the American Hockey League. It’s not chump change that he’s been going up against, so it’s been a real good challenge for him. It does help him get quicker and faster.”
“He’s had to make some slight adjustments,” Ranford elaborated. “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.”
After the 2011 Development Camp, Gibson was back for the Kings’ rookie camp and training camp, but returned to the Chicoutimi Sangueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he put up goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage numbers that were not as good as his 2010-11 stats (14-15-8 won-loss record, 2.42 GAA, .920 save percentage).
“I had a pretty tough start,” said the 6-1, 188-pound native of Karkkila, Finland. “When I came back from the [Kings training] camp, it was hard to get back to the junior level, in the way that we play. But when I went to the  World Junior [Championship], my game got way better, even though I didn’t have a good game against Canada. I bounced back in the next game, and I took that experience in a good way. I grew as a person, and as a goalie.”
“[His problem] was coming back from the [Kings training] camp, going back to junior, getting used to the speed again,” added Gibson. “I also put a lot of pressure on myself. I was expecting to put up even better numbers than the year before. When I calmed down, my season went better.”
Despite the fact that his 2010-11 GAA and save percentage numbers were better than his 2011-12 stats (27-17-4, 2.96 GAA, .893 save percentage), Gibson was not concerned
“We had a better team [this past season],” Gibson noted. “We all knew we had a chance to go far this [past season], and we went pretty far. Unfortunately, we lost in the semi-finals to St. John’s.”
“The year before, I had a great start,” Gibson added. “[My play during] the first half of [this past] season really hurt me. But I don’t mind if my save percentage is lower if I go further in the season, so I was happy about that.”
“I didn’t look back and say, ‘why did I have better stats last year,’ since [we were eliminated] in the first round of the playoffs.”
Despite taking his team into the QMJHL playoffs this season, Gibson does not appear to be ready to move up to the AHL level yet, and is likely bound once again for Chicoutimi next season, and he talked about what he needs to improve upon.
“It’s more on the ice, battling for every single puck,” the 19-year-old stressed. “I’ve been brought up more as a structural goalie, more like a ‘blocker.’ But now, I have to be a better athlete on the ice—more pad stacks and stuff like that.”
“There’s some things on the positional side of the game, cleaning up some of his lateral play, sometimes just getting him to read situations a little bit better, and start to understand when the right situation is to use a certain response,” said Kim Dillabaugh [who handles goaltender development for the Kings]. “That’s something that you see that you need to really work on with guys so they can start to read and understand the game a little bit better, and just make more efficient decisions.”
Gibson was back at the Kings Development Camp, July 6-10, 2012, and once again, he got lit up by several of the Kings forward prospects, including Toffoli and Weal.
But this time, getting used to recent changes in his style may have been a contributing factor.
“I changed my glove position from lower to higher, because in the pros, you can’t give those players any space [to shoot at],” said Gibson. “Lateral movement is also a big issue. That’s something even the pros work on, so I have to work on that, too.”
“When I came here as a Black Ace [players recalled to the big club’s roster, but do not play in playoff games], I worked on that a lot with Kim,” added Gibson. “It took a week, but now it’s feeling better. I feel more comfortable with it.”
Dillabaugh explained the changes are designed to bring out more of Gibson’s athletic ability.
“We’ve seen lots of improvements [in Gibson’s game since last summer],” said Dillabaugh. “We had a chance to spend some time with him here, through the playoff run. It was great to get him in here and spend some quality one-on-one time, be a little bit more methodical with his game, be able to really break some things down, and [make] some adjustments that we feel he needs to make in order to get him ready to translate to the pro level.”
“A lot of it with him is allowing him to balance his game out a little bit more,” added Dillabaugh. “He comes from more of a structured background. He does have good athletic capability, but I think that has been buried a little bit, under some of his structure. Again, there’s a lot of little things that we worked on with him, and it’s just now getting some repetitions so those become more habitual in his game.”
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Hoping to see Chris up this way in Manchester.
I don’t think he’s ready for the move to the AHL, and the fact that he’s 19, and that there’s no rush, indicates that he’s destined to return to Chicoutimi in the QMJHL next season. Bet on it.
I have all the time in the world. Retirement is good.