Gibbons a late-blooming Penguin with keen hockey sense

Brian Costello
Anaheim Ducks v Pittsburgh Penguins

Brian Gibbons became the fifth Pittsburgh Penguin to score a goal in his first NHL game. He converted a Evgeni Malkin centering pass Monday night to open the scoring in the third period of a 3-1 win over Anaheim.

Name the other four Penguins to accomplish that feat and you could win a Kewpie doll.

Answer: Mario Lemieux, Rick Kessel, Blair Chapman and Luca Caputi.

So who is this Brian Gibbons and where did he come from? I wondered that myself after he one-timed a brilliant feed by Malkin, who had just circled the wagons in the Anaheim zone. Notice how Gibbons had the wherewithal to not just watch Malkin, but find an open patch of ice with his stick on the ice.

“He has the hockey sense and awareness to make offensive plays like that,” said Penguins assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald. “He’s a very bright hockey player.”

Gibbons is an undrafted 25-year-old who spent four years with the Boston College Eagles. In his draft year of 2006, he was a pint-sized 5-foot-7, 150-pound center playing high school hockey in Salisbury, Connecticut. He didn’t register on anyone’s scale. Fitzgerald lives in the Boston area and watched him progress with the Eagles.

“That’s the one thing about Boston College, they don’t look at size, they look at hockey sense,” said Fitzgerald, whose son Ryan is a Bruins 2013 draft pick and in his freshman season (11 points in 11 games) with the Eagles.

The favorite for this year’s Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college is Eagles junior winger Johnny Gaudreau, a Calgary Flames draft pick. Gaudreau stands just 5-foot-8, 160 pounds and has 10 goals and 20 points in 11 games.

Getting back to Gibbons, the Penguins signed him after a pair of 50-point seasons in Hockey East. He was a mature 23 at the time and the hope was he’d make a quick adjustment to pro hockey and provide organizational depth. Gibbons struggled at times in two seasons with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL, even being a healthy scratch on occasion. With back-to-back 30-point AHL seasons, his name never came up in The Hockey News Future Watch, which rates the top 10 prospects for each NHL team.

Then after a poor training camp in September and at the crossroads of his career, something clicked.

“He worked hard, he practised hard, he showed a lot of determination,” Fitzgerald said.

In his first 15 AHL games this season, Gibbons had 22 points and a call-up to the NHL was well-earned.

“We’re always looking for scoring depth in the lineup,” Fitzgerald said. Gibbons played on a line with Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen.

The Penguins don’t really care about his size, which is now 5-foot-8, 160 pounds.

“There is no perfect player out there,” Fitzgerald said. “Size isn’t the determining factor in who becomes an NHL player.”

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN