Minor league report: Gibbons finds place with Baby Pens
As his second pro season rolls on, Brian Gibbons is looking less like a potential NHL scorer but more like a potential NHL player.
It's not as oxymoronic as it sounds.
When the Penguins signed the 5-foot-8 Gibbons as an undrafted free agent out of Boston College in 2011, he looked like he might follow in the footsteps of players like Montreal's Brian Gionta or Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe: speedy, undersized BC forwards who worked their way into the top six of an NHL depth chart.
After all, he had 101 points in 81 games in his final two college seasons, placing a close second in the team scoring race both years to Cam Atkinson, a first-round pick who could be a future star in Columbus.
Gibbons spent some time in a scoring role as a rookie with the Baby Pens last season but never really looked the part. He finished with 11 goals and 30 points in 70 games — decent numbers but nothing that screams potential top-six NHL forward.
He didn't come into his own until coach John Hynes began to use him consistently in a checking role this season. His numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 54 games coming into this weekend — are similar to those from his rookie season, but he's been a much more effective player.
If an opposing point man fumbles a puck on a power play, Gibbons takes off on a short-handed breakaway. If an opposing defenseman takes an extra second to decide where to send a breakout pass, Gibbons causes havoc on the forecheck.
He's become difficult to play against.
“There are all different ways to play the game and all different roles that players have, depending on your size or your skill set,” Gibbons said. “You have to find different ways to contribute and have success.”
Despite having an offense ranked 28th in the 30-team AHL, the Baby Pens are in position to make the playoffs for the 11th straight season. A big reason is their performance in games not decided in regulation: The Baby Pens are 5-2 in overtime and 6-1 in shootouts.
When Brad Thiessen woke up on New Year's Day, he was in the midst of a second straight subpar season. He was 3-6-1 with a 3.41 goals-against average and .884 save percentage.
Since then, he has gone 10-4 with a 1.92 GAA, .923 save percentage and four shutouts in 15 appearances.
“It's hard to explain,” he said. “My wife will say, ‘Why can't you be like that all the time?' I wish it were that easy.”
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot, the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft who missed most of January and all of February with a high-ankle sprain, returned to the Portland Winterhawks' lineup March 5 and had two assists in his first three games.
Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.