Under Pressure: John Gibson

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

Gibson earns this honor for the second straight summer. While Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler represent the old guard, the 25-year-old goaltender can be a huge part of this franchise’s future.

Gibson enters the final year of a deal that carries a $2.3 million cap hit. It was a nice three-year, $6.9 million contract signed in 2015 that was a “prove it” challenge as Frederik Andersen’s time was coming to an end in Anaheim.

Since inking that extension Gibson has made 147 starts, posted 14 shutouts and a .925 even strength save percentage. This past season he was in the Vezina Trophy conversation while helping the Ducks to a 101-point season. Set to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next summer, he’s cemented his role as the team’s No. 1 between the pipes. But if he wants that big payday — think Connor Hellebuyck’s recent six-year, $37 million extension — he’ll have to perform at that level for another season.

[Looking Back at 2017-18Building Off a BreakthroughThree Questions]

Since 2015, Gibson’s taken on a bigger workload in each of the last three seasons. His minutes have risen — from 2,295 to 2,950 to 3,428 — and that experience has helped improve his game.

“It’s just like anybody,” Gibson said in March via the Orange County Register. “Whatever position you are, the more you play in this league and everything like that, I think you just feel more comfortable. I think that’s just how it is. Obviously you work on things here and there. But I think with just playing games and having another year under my belt, that just helps with success and helps you personally, confidence-wise. It just makes you feel more comfortable.”

Barring a major trade or two before opening night, the Ducks will look a lot similar to last season. The Pacific Division isn’t one of the best in the NHL, but it will be a competitive fight to claim one of the playoff spots next spring. Gibson was a huge reason why Anaheim was one of the league’s stingiest defenses in terms of goals allowed (2.55 per game). Plenty of shots got through to him (1,872), but he kept them in most games and was a deciding factor in many others.

He’s a year away from that big pay day. How much can Gibson build off of ’17-18 and continue it for 2018-19?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.