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.