From Ryan Malone and R.J. Umberger to today's youngsters like Brandon Saad and JT Miller, Western Pennsylvania has been turning out more and more professional hockey prospects every year. Until now, though, the big-time hockey players from the Pittsburgh area have always been skaters.
Goaltender John Gibson, a Whitehall native, is about to break that mold. Gibson is the Central Scouting Bureau's top ranked goalie for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Actually, he's the consensus pick for the top netminder of every credible draft ranking around.
Gibson officially checked in at the recent NHL Scouting Combine already at NHL size- 6-toot-3, 205 pounds. He spent this past season playing for the US National Development team. Among his highlights is leading the USA's Under-18 year old team to an international tournament win this spring. Gibson will be heading off to Ann Arbor in the fall to play for the University of Michigan and their powerhouse program.
"The intriguing thing about Gibson is his size," Jesse Marshall, a draft expert from Faceoff Factor said to SB Nation Pittsburgh. "[Gibson's] a huge kid but he's really flexible. He has the demeanor in net where he always appears to be in total control of his emotions and where he fits in the game. He doesn't show you much in terms of body language or anything of that nature. I'd also say he's advanced in terms of how well he can play the puck."
Despite having the size and pedigree, many predict Gibson could be a mid-to-late first round pick in next week's draft. It's especially difficult to judge the ceiling of goaltenders at the age of 18 or 19, so many NHL teams are gun-shy about drafting a goaltenders early. Looking in the recent past confirms this; in last year's draft there were only two netminders picked in the first round, and in 2009 there wasn't a single goalie selected in the opening round.
In 2011, some possible landing points for Gibson, given team needs and outlooks, could be the Chicago Blackhawks (who pick No. 18), Ottawa Senators (No. 21) or the Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 27). However, this year's draft is considered to be very wide-open, and often, draft-day trades will take place, so picking potential suitors for Gibson is especially tough. Whichever team gets his rights will be adding a rising star and a player to watch for the future.
One thing is certain, it could finally be a goalie's turn to take the spotlight in western Pennsylvania. Gibson could very well edge out Saad (Gibsonia) to be the first local player to hear his name first called on draft day.