Ducks 2011 second rounder John Gibson de-commits from University of Michigan, headed to Kitchener

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Anaheim Ducks second round choice and highly touted goaltending prospect John Gibson has de-committed from the University of Michigan in favor of the Ontario Hockey League.

Since news broke that he would not be attending school in Ann Arbor, the Kitchener Rangers have confirmed that they have signed the man they picked in the 11th round of the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection draft. Gibson explained that the change was a difficult decision:

“It’s never an easy decision to make. It was a long and hard decision. It was what me and family thought was the best decision.”

Gibson went 6-0 in the World Under-18 Championship in Germany last spring including overtime victories against Canada in the Semifinals and against Sweden in the Final. He was the top rated North American goaltender in the 2011 Draft by both NHL Central Scouting and International Scouting Services. He ended up being the second goaltender selected in the draft (first North American) when he went 39th overall to the Ducks. He’s a self described “big goaltender who uses his athleticism.”

The original plan was for Gibson to make the easy transition from the Under-18 National Development Program in Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan in the same town. He signed a letter of intent in May and only a few weeks ago he was still looking forward to becoming a Wolverine. In an interview Pro Hockey Talk at the Ducks Prospect and Development Camp, he explained his thought process behind his commitment to Michigan:

“I just felt like Michigan would be a good fit,” Gibson explained. “Obviously, Coach Berenson’s a ‘one goalie’ guy. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to play right from the start and run away with it.”

He went on to say that he would be given a chance to start as a freshman and grow with four years of starting experience. This is where there could have been a bit of miscommunication as University of Michigan head coach Red Berenson talked about the relationship Gibson would have with returning senior Shawn Hunwick:

“It’s an ideal situation for Gibson to have someone like [fifth year senior Shawn] Hunwick to talk to, room with on the road get to know him. Shawn’s not worried about losing his job. He’ll groom John to take over the program, part of that grooming is competition.”

This isn’t the first time Berenson and the Wolverines have lost a top-ranked goaltender to the OHL. Last season, Dallas Stars first-round draft pick Jack Campbell was slated for Michigan before he de-committed in favor of the Windsor Spitfires. Coincidentally, both Campbell and Gibson followed the same career path. The both were extremely impressive with the U-18 National Development Program, excelled in international play, committed to nearby Michigan, and then bolted to the OHL. He credits the success to the coaching staff at the U-18 team and expects the goaltending to continue to sparkle.

“I think ever since they hired the goaltending coach Joe Exter, it really took off,” Gibson shared. “He’s a great guy, we’re on the ice working with him every day and he’s just so good. Really, he wants you to succeed more than you do almost. He’s taught me how to carry myself and go out there each and every day and be successful and give you the tools you need to be successful at the next level. So it’s really great to have a guy like that looking out for you.”

It’s not just Campbell and Gibson that have shunned collegiate hockey in favor of major junior hockey in Canada. Last week, Dallas Stars first round draft pick Jaime Oleksiak announced he is leaving Northeastern University to play with the Saginaw Spirit. Then today, Phoenix Coyotes first round pick Connor Murphy announced that he no longer plans on attending Miami (Ohio) and will play for the Sarnia Sting next year—not to mention Rangers top pick J.T. Miller choosing to play with the Plymouth Whalers instead of the University of North Dakota. After all is said and done, the only first round pick that still plans on going the college route is Toronto Maple Leafs selection Tyler Biggs.

Gibson’s decision is only the latest in the trend of heralded prospects heading north of the border to continue their development. Only a few weeks ago Gibson was seemingly excited about his decision to head to school in the fall—but things change. With Kitchener he’ll be able to play more games to prepare for a future in professional hockey. In the meantime, Red Berenson will just look for another blue-chip prospect to bring to the Wolverines next season.

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

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The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes

Preds expect answer from Fisher next week

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We should find out next week if Mike Fisher is going to retire or keep playing for the Predators.

Fisher, Nashville’s 37-year-old captain, is an unrestricted free agent. He confirmed last month that he was considering retirement. But first, he needed some time to think.

Yesterday, Preds GM David Poile said he expected an answer soon.

“I’m hoping to talk to him later this week to see where he’s at,” Poile said, per The Tennessean. “I’d say by next week, we should have an update.”

Fisher had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games last season, but then had just four assists in 20 playoff games as the Preds reached their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

If Fisher re-signs, he’ll likely be in the bottom six next season, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Nick Bonino expected to center the top two lines. Fisher could even be the fourth-line center or a winger, allowing the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Frederick Gaudreau to take on bigger roles.

But for Fisher, hockey isn’t everything, and after more than 1,000 games in the NHL, he may simply opt to hang up the skates.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me,” Fisher said. “But there’s other things. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

Related: Predators take Stanley Cup loss with grace and optimism

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.