With my focus shifted to the NHL Entry Draft this weekend at the XCEL Energy Center, I wanted to post my thoughts on the crop of domestic and international goalies available this summer. Although everyone is looking towards the two Gibson's as the biggest story for the goaltenders, the 2011 class is actually much deeper than it appears.
By now we all know that John Gibson will probably be the first goalie drafted this weekend. But to be honest, I personally find myself drifting towards Christopher Gibson as the more valuable goalie for a few different reasons.
First of all, for what it's worth, I like Chris' game a little more than John’s. Coming over from Finland to play for Chicoutimi, he has thrived by playing more of a reaction-based butterfly style. He thrives on excellent footwork and reads plays extremely well, which allows him to be successful in a dynamic and very skilled league like the QMJHL.
Chris doesn’t have the size, net presence or the lower-leg strength of John, but he has better eye-hand coordination. In fact, Chris had the best score (22.4) in the Hand-Eye Coordination test at the NHL Combine, so I think reflexes and overall reaction speed is a significant advantage for him. Chris also had a 78-inch wingspan, which was second-best for all goalies at the Combine.
Either way, NHL teams can’t go wrong with either Gibson. Both have terrific upside and both have great strengths in different areas. It's tough to compare them since they play such different styles, so teams will have to look at how each goalie potentially meshes with the team's goalie coach. Teaching styles compared to the goalie's current style will play a role in where they ultimately land.
Beyond the two Gibson's, it's safe to say that Samu Perhonen will be the first International goalie taken. He’s another Pekka Rinne hybrid, as his lanky size (just over 6-foot-4) and terrific reactions make him a valuable commodity. He’ll probably be the third or fourth goalie taken, maybe sooner since there's a buzz that he could be the next great Finn.
One you get past the big three (Gibson's and Perhonen), the goaltending class is fairly wide open. You'll know that some of the more recognizable names Jordan Binnington and Matt McNeely will get plucked, but let me briefly discuss three other goalies that, regardless of where they’re drafted, will be worth owning in your keeper league.
First of all, Matt Mahalak, who is in no way a "sleeper" by any means, still seems to be flying under the radar. Not only was he considered one of the best goalies in the OHL this season, but he has a lot of hidden advantages in regards to his long-term potential.
To start, Mahalak has is very mentally tough for his age thanks to his time spent at the Culver Military Academy. During his tenure there, Matt learned important mental elements such as preparation, composure, confidence, discipline and structure. This, I feel, will go a long way in helping him evolve into a very special goalie that could clearly reach the upper echelon of his goaltending class in 3-4 more years.