Penguins undrafted winger Gibbons uses his speed to create chances
By Chris Adamski
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 7:45 p.m.
Brian Gibbons took a couple of strides and greeted some teammates. He checked his stick to see if it had been broken.
Barely a smile was cracked or an arm raised.
Not quite the reaction you'd expect immediately after a young undrafted player, during his 17th NHL game, scored his third NHL goal — a deft one, at that.
Then again, Gibbons isn't your typical American Hockey League call-up. He certainly is not filling a role asked of typical call-ups.
Gibbons, when healthy, has been the primary winger used on the right side of Canadian Olympians Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the Penguins' top line since Pascal Dupuis was lost for the season because of a knee injury Dec. 23.
Three weeks shy of his 26th birthday and three seasons removed from playing at Boston College, the 5-foot-8 Gibbons is bigger on speedy skating than he is on demonstrative personality.
“I actually think his most colorful and energetic times,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “are when he answers a question for the media.”
Considering the polite but monotonic manner in which Gibbons speaks during an interview, that says something.
Gibbons showed his businesslike demeanor after scoring a power-play goal late in the first period of what ended up a 2-1 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
“Guys were giving him grief about it,” Bylsma said. “‘You know, you just scored a power-play goal,' and he's there just testing the stick on the ice and nonchalant back to the bench.”
“That's him,” Crosby said. “Everybody's different, and that's Gibby. He's just one of those guys who quietly goes about his business. ... A nice guy, and I think he has a lot of fun but probably doesn't show it as much as maybe other guys. But I don't think that doesn't mean he's not excited about playing in the NHL.”
Especially playing in the NHL on arguably the league's top line. Crosby and Kunitz entered Tuesday's games as two of the top 11 scorers this season.
Typically, most rookies merely are looking to fill a niche. Gibbons is getting to occupy some of the most coveted real estate for an NHL forward.
“Everyone, when they get called up, they just want a good opportunity to show what they can do,” Gibbons said. “And you're not going to get a better chance than I've got right now. I'm just trying to take advantage of it and make the most of it.”
Gibbons has eight points in 17 games, his tenure interrupted by a lower-body injury for two weeks last month.
Overlooked at the draft because of his size, Gibbons' speed is allowing him to fit in with two of the game's top forwards.
“Everybody notices his speed, but he's got really good vision out there, too,” said Kunitz, himself an undrafted player. “I don't know what goes into the scouting aspect of guys. All I know is Gibby is working hard, tracking down pucks and creating with speed.”
With the trade deadline a month from Wednesday, it's possible, if not likely, Penguins general manager Ray Shero will bring in a veteran wing for the Crosby line.
If so, that won't necessarily be an indictment on Gibbons. On Tuesday, Bylsma ran through a list of key plays Gibbons has made and strong games he has played.
“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 talent and the strength that he has, so he's done well for himself and found a way to continue to contribute.”
Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
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