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Penguins rookie Gibbons brings speed to top line

by Mike G. Morreale

CHICAGO -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Brian Gibbons knows what life is like in the fast lane.

In a span of three seasons, the undrafted free agent signee in 2011 has gone from collegiate all-star to American Hockey League all-star to riding shotgun with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins top line.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound left-handed shot has certainly made the quick transition, literally. He might be the fastest player on the team.

"He creates turnovers with his speed, and he's able to get to loose pucks and create pressure," Crosby said. "He competes and works hard and uses the strength that he has."

Gibbons has become more comfortable as his rookie season has progressed. Despite averaging just 11:24 of ice time, he has three goals and seven points in the past 11 games.

Skating with Sid a thrill

CHICAGO -- Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Brian Gibbons has played in two outdoor hockey games in his career.

While those games were fun, none will match the intensity and quickness of the one he'll participate in Saturday in the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series game when the Penguins play against the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

On top of that, the rookie will likely play his usual role at right wing alongside captain Sidney Crosby and left wing Chris Kunitz.

His previous outdoor experience included a game for Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, against the Hershey Bears at HersheyPark Stadium on Jan. 20, 2013. He also battled the outdoor elements as a member of Boston College against Boston University at Fenway Park on Jan. 8, 2010.

Now he gets an opportunity in an NHL outdoor game on a line with Crosby.

"It's not tough playing with him on the ice," Gibbons said. "It's tough off the ice with all the questions you get and stuff like that. But no one will ever complain playing with Sidney Crosby."

-- Mike G. Morreale

"He brings his speed a lot of different ways, but that's what he brings up to that top line," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

While he may not dazzle you with a spectacular move, Gibbons does all the little things required by his coach.

"Is Brian Gibbons a skilled top No. 1 right wing in the League? I don't think so," Bylsma said. "But he does bring that speed and that energy and helps his line that way. He's pretty much done it, you know, I would say eight out of the last 10 games, he's brought it."

The Penguins inked Gibbons to a free-agent contract in April 2011 and he spent two seasons with the team's AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, scoring 30 goals and 90 points in 167 games.

He also participated in the 2014 AHL All-Star Game over the Olympic break.

"I saw [Gibbons] turn pro, and heard about the way he played in college and heard about what kind of player he was," Bylsma said. "His progression has been over the course of two years. He's really learning and starting to bring that game the last half of the year."

With injuries to several key offensive players this season, including Beau Bennett and Pascal Dupuis, Gibbons was given his shot and hasn't disappointed.

"I think over the past last two years, after leaving college, I had a few ups and downs in Wilkes-Barre and had some good and bad stretches," Gibbons said. "But I had a fresh start this year and a good start in Wilkes. I thought I might get a chance and with all the injuries, and while that's unfortunate for guys, it gave a guy like me a chance to come up. The guys in Wilkes notice what is going on with the Penguins; it gives them all hope and reason to play hard. So it's cool to get this experience. I take it day by day and have really enjoyed it."

When Dupuis was lost for the season after sustaining a knee injury on Dec. 23, Bylsma thought Gibbons' wheels would be a perfect fit at right wing alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

"Sid's a guy that really needs a couple things or he wants a couple things with his line, and that is speed," Bylsma said. "You want someone to force the issue. You want someone to attack with speed and create turnovers. That's what he brings. He's got some pretty fast wheels. I don't know where he ranks up there, but he creates opportunities for his line and draws penalties with his speed."

The native of Braintree, Mass., has 56 goals and 164 points in 160 career games spanning four seasons at Boston College under the tutelage of legendary coach Jerry York. He played high school hockey for two seasons at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts before transferring to Salisbury School in Connecticut in 2006-07.

"Jerry [York] was great; a really good influence on me on and off the ice," Gibbons said. "He's such a good guy and cares about the school and his players. That really translates to the players. He did a good job developing me on the ice as much as off the ice."


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