|There isn't much that separates goalies John Gibson of the U.S. National Team Development Program and Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
John Gibson of Whitehall, Pa., has been regarded as the No. 1 goalie by NHL Central Scouting since the start of the season, while Christopher Gibson of Karkkila, Finland, has locked down the No. 2 slot.
"The top two guys have a very similar style … there's not much separation other than consistency," Central Scouting's head goalie scout, Al Jensen, told NHL.com. "I think John has maybe been a little more consistent in his game over the course of the year. But it's a very fine line between these two. I have no problems saying they are quality goalies and as I followed them, it just solidified my thinking of how good they really are.
"I feel they are both first-round caliber goalies. If I'm an NHL team looking for a goalie, I'd have zero problems choosing either one of them."
Since the Gibson boys are relatively neck-in-neck down the stretch, could next week's NHL Scouting Combine ultimately put one over the top when the NHL Entry Draft is held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24-25?
"I'm sure a team will probably have a strong idea already on which one they like before the Combine," Jensen said. "If it's close between the two, then I feel the Combine could definitely make a difference. I know the interviews come into play a lot and I'm sure they'll be able to tell how a goalie presents himself during the course of the testing. With the speed of the game now and the way goalies have to move throughout the crease, especially in butterfly, they have to have strong quick leg pushes for lateral movements. That's something scouts will be looking for."
Here's a snapshot of the nine goalies looking to make an impression at the Combine from May 30 through June 4 in Toronto.
1. John Gibson, USA U18 (USHL): After going unbeaten in his only two games with the Under-18 Team last season, the University of Michigan-bound goalie fashioned an impressive 24-11-3 mark with a 2.55 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 40 contests in 2010-11.
His most notable achievement was leading the U.S. Under-18 National Team to its third consecutive gold medal at the U18 World Championship in Germany. He made 28 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory over Sweden in the final and received the directorate award as the tournament's best goalie after going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
"Overall, I just think John has such a good feel for the net," Jensen said. "He's very good positionally and plays big. He possesses good quickness and good strength and he's got all the attributes that a pro goalie needs to be a top-end goalie."
Gibson, who finished 10-2 with a 2.19 GAA and .930 save percentage in 12 international games in 2010-11, had one of the most memorable seasons for a goalie in NTDP history. His 24 wins rank seventh all-time, his 2.55 GAA ranks ninth and his .921 save percentage put him in a three-way tie for third with Jack Campbell (2008-09) and Brad Phillips (2005-06).
2. Christopher Gibson, Chicoutimi (QMJHL): He fashioned a 14-15-8 record with a 2.42 GAA and .920 save percentage in 37 regular-season games, including four shutouts, for the Sagueneens.
"He's got that look about him in the net," Jensen said. "When you see him, you say to yourself, this kid really does look like a goalie. He has great balance and spreads out very well. He's got the makeup to be a pro goalie, the strength and knowledge that you need. He's got quick feet but what really sticks out in my mind is his positioning, the way he covers the net. I really like the way he battles in there, too."
3. Jordan Binnington, Owen Sound (OHL): Binnington jumped from No. 7 on Central Scouting's mid-term report to third on the final list of North American goaltenders. The 6-foot-1 1/4, 156-pounder finished 27-12-5 with a 3.05 GAA and .899 save percentage in 46 appearances.
Binnington backstopped the Attack to their first Robertson Cup title with the final two wins of the Rogers OHL Championship Series against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. With his team down 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, Binnington started Game 6 and stopped 41 shots, including 14 in the third period of a 3-2 victory. He then made 25 saves in a 3-2 overtime triumph in Game 7 to seal the deal on May 15.
"He started the year off slow but I've seen enough of him and have seen improvement," Jensen said. "What he lacked in the beginning of the year was confidence. When starter Scott Stajcer got hurt, he played in a lot of games for a 17-year-old kid. He's similar to John Gibson in the way he moves to get set. He's at the top of the crease and looks big in the net. When he goes down, I've seen a lot of shots hit him in the shoulder; he's always square. Is he at the level he needs to be at the pro level? No, but I've seen improvements. I know he's going to even get bigger and better."
4. Matt McNeely, USA U18 (USHL): McNeely is unlike his partner for the U.S. National Team Development Program, John Gibson, because he's more flashy and daring between the pipes. His style was certainly effective. In 27 appearances, McNeely, bound for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall, finished 9-12-1 with a 3.84 GAA and .891 save percentage. He was unbeaten in six international appearances, going 4-0-0 with a 3.62 GAA and .883 save percentage.
"I think he's trying to play it like (Jack) Campbell (drafted No. 11 by the Dallas Stars in 2010)," Jensen said. "He dances and flies around in the net, but has some holes. He's very quick, very athletic and has great drive and determination, but he's overanxious and overreacts and, at times, that's what hurts Campbell. The thing is, John Gibson cannot play like Campbell, but McNeely does have that ability."
5. Samu Perhonen, JYP Jr. (Finland): Perhonen is the top European goalie on Central Scouting's final rankings, finishing with a 2.71 GAA and .922 save percentage in 29 games for Junior A SM-liiga. He led his team to the league championship with a 2.14 GAA and .930 save percentage in seven games and also posted a 2.80 GAA and .918 save percentage in five international contests.
"He an excellent big goalie and was a key player when his team, JYP, won the Finnish junior title," Stubb said. "Hey, Perhonen means 'butterfly!' "
In four appearances for fifth-place Finland at the U18 World Championship, Perhonen was 2-2-0 with a 3.52 GAA and .875 save percentage. He made 27 saves in a 5-3 victory over Czech Republic.
6. Stephen Michalek, Loomis-Chaffee (HIGH-CT): Michalek, bound for Harvard, is the top-rated scholastic goalie on Central Scouting's list of domestic keepers. He could be a sleeper, too. The 6-1 1/4, 183-pound shot blocker sported a .918 save percentage while making over 1,000 saves for a prep team that finished 3-20-2 in 2010-11. He also earned a silver medal for the U.S. Under-17 Team at the Ivan Hlinka last summer.
"Every time I've seen the kid play, he takes between 50 and 60 shots," Jensen said. "In a way, it was good because plenty of scouts got to see him. He plays big and is very good laterally. When he's in his butterfly, he looks big, he's smooth and controlled. He's very composed and he battles and fights through traffic to track the puck well."
7. Michael Morrison, Kitchener (OHL): Morrison might just be the most technically-sound keeper of the entire goalie crops. He finished 15-6-3 with a 2.65 GAA and .912 save percentage, including two shutouts, in 27 games for the Rangers.
"He might be the best technically sound goalie in the top 10," Jensen said. "He really had a good second half of the year. He struggled in the first half, but picked up his game. I liked his positional play, glove hand and his rebound control. He's always square to the puck and can track pucks well. He needs to improve his intensity level a little more … that was part of his problem in the beginning of the year."
8. Laurent Brossoit, Edmonton (WHL): If a team is looking for a youngster with a great work ethic and tremendous upside, Brossoit might be their man. He went 13-12-2 with a 3.32 GAA and .887 save percentage in 34 games with the Oil Kings this season.
"He moved up from mid-term (from No. 14 to No. 7) because he exhibited aggressiveness and quick feet and pads," Jensen said. "He works hard and strong in his crease and always battles -- those are the things I noticed. While watching him in practice one day, I also liked the way he presented himself. He's such a positive type of kid … a pleasure to have as a teammate."
9. Matt Mahalak, Plymouth (OHL): He joined the Plymouth Whalers this season after playing for Youngstown of the United States Hockey league in 2009-10 and finished 8-8-4 with a 3.08 GAA and .908 save percentage in 21 appearances. Most importantly, from Jan. 1 through the end of the Whalers' playoff run, he posted a 2.14 GAA and .935 save percentage in 15 games.
"He improved a lot over the course of the season," Jensen said. "He's a big kid (6-1 3/4, 183 pounds), but not the quickest in the world. He reads the play well and might be quicker than he was earlier in the year. He has improved on controlling his movements in the net and positional play. His lateral quickness needs to improve."