John Gibson didn’t get a lot of breaks growing up playing hockey.
The Baldwin native tried out for a number of AAA teams in the area in his younger days, but always got cut. He tried out for the varsity hockey team at Baldwin-Whitehall High School his freshman year and didn’t make the team.
But he stuck with the sport because he loved it, and finally got his break when he made the Pittsburgh Hornets AAA hockey club as a sophomore, garnering exposure at a national level.
Now Gibson, 17, is the No. 1-ranked North American goaltender for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Gibson tried not to think about the rankings during his season, instead preferring to focus on his play and helping his team, the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) Under-18 Team, achieve their goal of winning gold at the World Under-18 Championships in Crimmitschau, Germany last month.
He certainly did that, as Gibson was named the tournament’s best goaltender after posting a perfect 6-0 record, 2.34 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
He came up with his two biggest performances when his team needed him most, stopping 28 of 31 shots in the championship game against Sweden, a 4-3 overtime victory, after making 38 saves in a 5-4 overtime win over Canada.
But now that Gibson's season is over and he’s graduated high school, he can’t keep the excitement of the draft and its significance – getting ever closer to his dreams of playing in the National Hockey League – bottled up forever.
“Now that the season’s over and everything, I just kind of get to enjoy all the stuff the draft brings,” Gibson said. “Like the (NHL Scouting) Combine and all of the meetings and everything. … The main thing for me is that I’m just hoping to enjoy the experience. Have a fun time with it, do my best and enjoy it.”
Gibson is currently one of the 102 best draft-eligible prospects from North America and Europe partaking in the NHL Scouting Combine, which began Monday and runs through Saturday in Toronto, Ontario.
The event – which does not contain any on-ice activity – gives all 30 NHL clubs a chance to meet and evaluate the prospects less than a month before the draft.
The Combine can have an effect on a player’s draft stock come June, but Kyle Woodlief, the chief scout and publisher of the Red Line Report, an independent scouting service, says there is no question that Gibson is the consensus No. 1 goalie.
“I think he definitely is clearly the top-ranked goalie,” Woodlief said. “He is the consensus No. 1 goaltender and I’d be very surprised if anybody other than him was the first goaltender off the board.”
In fact, Woodlief believes that Gibson may be the first one selected of what’s set to be the Pittsburgh area’s strongest-ever draft class, which includes Brandon Saad (Gibsonia), ranked No. 19 among North American skaters; J.T. Miller (Coraopolis/E. Palestine, OH), ranked No. 23 among North American skaterst; and Vince Trocheck, ranked No. 42 among North American skaters.
“Just because of the fact that there’s always teams looking for goaltenders and he’s clearly the No. 1 goaltender on the board, I think he’s got to be pushed up higher in the draft then where I have him ranked,” Woodlief said.
“If he went off the board first, it wouldn't surprise me just because of the fact that goaltending is so scarce in this year’s draft and there’s always teams out there that have no depth in their system and really need to add a talented netminder to their system.”
It’s a good thing, then, that Gibson’s parents, Jack and Sue, had him switch to goalie after he played defense his first year.
“I played defense from inside the net, like I stood right next to the goalie inside of the net,” Gibson said. “So from there, my parents thought it would probably be a good idea to probably try me out as goalie. They did and ever since then, I haven’t had any regrets.”
Except maybe for those trying to score against him.WATCH
– JOHN GIBSON'S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PENS TV: