June 03 2013 08:34AM
A year ago, the Calgary Flames did something that made me cringe. They drafted a goaltender early in the 2012 NHL Draft, taking USHL stand-out Jon Gillies in the third round. A year later, they're making themselves look pretty darn smart for that move, as Gillies made the jump to the NCAA and had an excellent year.
A tower of a fella – standing easily 6-6 and 220 pounds – Jon Gillies is a big-bodied goalie from New Hampshire. He played his junior hockey with the Indiana Ice of the USHL and put up pretty strong numbers, although there were some questions about the quality of competition in the USHL. At the time, Gillies' success was also tempered by the fact that he's just so darn big that he could rely on size and not necessarily positioning or technique to stop pucks. Could he continue to be successful at the NCAA level, with stronger, faster and more accurate shooters?
Well, Gillies answered all those questions in his first post-draft season. Beginning his college career at Providence College, alongside Flames first rounder Mark Jankowski, Gillies did what few freshmen do in the NCAA – he became not only a starting goaltender but also a difference-maker for his hockey team.
The Friars ended up tied for third in their conference and made it to the Hockey East semi-final before bowing out against U-Mass Lowell. Gillies finished the year with an excellent haul of statistics and awards. He started 35 games for Providence, going 17-12-6 with a 2.08 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. He was runner-up for Hockey East's MVP award, made both the All-Star and All-Rookie teams and was named the conference Rookie of the Year. He was also named a second team All-American. Our own Ryan Lambert feels Gillies should have won the MVP award over Johnny Gaudreau because the young goaltender was even more central to his club's success than was Gaudreau for Boston College.
Oh, and he won a gold medal at the World Juniors, too. He played a period and otherwise served as back-up to Team USA starting netminder John Gibson. He'll likely be the team's starting goalkeeper at the upcoming World Juniors next winter.
After being one of several pretty good goalies in the USHL a year ago, Jon Gillies made a huge stride forward and became one of the best goaltenders in the NCAA last year. If you go by what the Hockey East voters said, he's the second-best player in the conference behind Hockey.
And all this in his freshman year.
He'll be 20 in January, but Gillies has put together an impressive resume with his first post-draft season. Much as it was with Gaudreau, the expectations for his sophomore year are very high. Whether he can meet them is another discussion in itself, but for now, Gillies has done quite well and become one of the most intriguing prospects in the Flames system as a result.
And due to Calgary's much-discussed glut of goaltenders at the pro level, Gillies will be given all the times he needs to ripen in college before he makes a push for a job in Abbotsford or Calgary in the future.