TORONTO– While he may not admit it, goaltender prospect Christopher Gibson is trying to impress two NHL organizations this week. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the LA Kings.
The 20-year-old was originally drafted by the Kings with their first choice in 2011, 49th overall, after putting up league-best numbers with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL.
However, his play declined and his numbers regressed heavily over the next two seasons and his future with LA came to an end this summer when the organization declined to sign him to a deal.
“I was a bit upset in the summer when I didn’t sign with LA, but it was great when Toronto gave me the opportunity,” said Gibson, who signed with the Leafs on July 19th. “It’s hurtful. But I put it behind me and now I’m really happy to wear the blue and white.”
The crushing reality of being let go by the Kings left Gibson searching for answers. And it would have been easy to place part of the blame on his junior squad that had the fifth worst offensive production in the entire league in 2012-13. But, Gibson takes full responsibility for making it easy for LA to move on without him.
“I don’t like to talk bad about my team. It was my own game,” said Gibson. “For some reason I couldn’t get my game up. Couple injuries didn’t help but maybe I put a lot of pressure on myself after being drafted. I think that maybe brought my numbers down….(LA) just didn’t think I was good enough”
Gibson is currently skating at Marlies training camp trying to show Toronto he was worth the three-year entry level contract agreed upon. And he’s doing so by spending extra time working alongside goalie coach Piero Greco prior to team drills. A “butterfly” goalie, Gibson has been looking to get as much ice time as possible before decisions are made on which tandem in net the Marlies plan to go with for the upcoming season.
“He’s played well, tremendous young man,” said Marlies head coach Steve Spott. “Goalies take time so I’m hoping after a tough year last year his confidence is back up. We’re excited about him as a prospect.”
While veteran Drew MacIntyre is expected to be the AHL club’s starter, Gibson and fellow 20-year-old prospect Garret Sparks have taken battle for the back-up position. Sparks, who was selected by the Leafs 190th overall in the same draft as Gibson, has the upper hand for the position. But Spott won’t decide on who gets it until after the Marlies play exhibition games at the end of September.
“It’s awesome. Both these guys are pushing themselves,” said Spott.
Gibson is from Karkkila, a small town in Finland, as is his mother. However he gets the English name from his father, who is from Great Britain.
When he was 15 he moved to Saskatchewan and played a year at Notre Dame College on the midget squad that won the Telus Cup. That same year he met prospect Morgan Rielly, who played on Notre Dame’s Bantam team.
After leaving the college, Gibson joined the Sagueneens, who selected him in the first round of the import draft, and played four seasons of junior in the QMJHL.
Then this summer, after LA walked away, Gibson returned home to start a different style of off-season training. He enlisted in the Finnish military to serve a six-month term, which is mandatory for men over 18 years of age.
“I was prepared to go, I knew I had to go this summer and for two years I’ve pushed it off,” said Gibson. “It wasn’t a normal summer of waking up at nine and going to the gym or the ice. It was waking up at 5:30 every morning and running around with a 30 kilo back pack for two hours. It was a fun experience to learn to shoot guns and toss grenades. I was the guy on the front line. I had to go check on where people were.”
Signing with the Leafs in July cut Gibson’s military training short by three months and he will have to return to complete his duties at some point in the future. For now, though, he is focused on the chance Toronto has given him and pushing Sparks for a spot on the Marlies is his task at hand.