I’m not going to lie: I still think drafting a goaltender in the first three rounds of the draft is hard to justify. I think there are too many things that can go wrong with goaltender development to grab one really early. Oddly enough, the two Calgary Flames goaltenders who were at development camp? Both have signed pro contracts, and both guys were drafted in the first three rounds – Mason McDonald in the second round in 2014 and Jon Gillies in the third round in 2012.
Of the two, Gillies is making the best case to get me to abandon my “Don’t Draft Goalies Early” philosophy, or at least to ignore it in his case.
After being drafted out of the USHL, he went to Providence College (alongside John Gilmour and Mark Jankowski) and basically carried the mail for the team goaltending-wise. Over his three-year NCAA career, he played 108 of Providence College’s 118 games – posting a 60-34-13 record with a 2.08 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. He came to Calgary for development camp after being off the ice for three months, but his last game was a pretty big one: a 49-save effort in a 4-3 win over Boston University to capture the NCAA national championship.
Gillies came into development camp with a fairly straightforward mentality following the NCAA championship win.
“Just trying to come in and leave as good an impression as possible, but the way I play doesn’t change,” shared Gillies. “The game doesn’t change just because you turn pro, the game gets a little faster and stuff, but it’s still the same game I played since I started playing hockey. Just trying to stick to the things that made me successful, fine-tooth things, be really adamant about the details, and work as hard as I can.”
After signing a contract with the Flames in the spring, Gillies joined the team for its playoff run. Now poised to likely head to the minor leagues for his first professional season, Gillies isn’t focused too much on individual goals for next year.
“You can set goals for yourself personally, but the best thing you want to do is put yourself in a position to help the team win in any way possible and have a good teammate mindset no matter where I end up,” said Gillies. “Whether it’s in the AHL, NHL, East Coast, whatever it may be. Just be as good a teammate as possible, be the hardest working person possible on the ice and off the ice, and just be as good a person as I can. I think that everything else will take care of itself.”
Many places – including this site – have been awash with buzz and speculation regarding the Flames and their goaltending situation for 2015-16 and beyond. On the other hand, Gillies paints himself as rather passive in terms of keeping an eye on Calgary’s goaltending situation.
“I think anyone who knows me can say that I’ve always gone with the flow,” said Gillies. “That’s always been something. My little brother had to tell me that they signed Karri [Ramo] back. I was very happy. He’s a great guy. He’s a great goalie. All three of them are great people as well as great goalies. They helped me a lot when I was up here for my two or three weeks, and showed me a lot. It’s gonna be a good healthy competition, but at the same time you never root against a teammate. You want the team to do well first and foremost, and so it doesn’t matter if you’re in the net or on the sidelines. Everyone’s working towards the same goal, and you’re trying to push the other guys and if you get in there, if I get in there, make the most of my opportunities.”
Beyond the NCAA championship win, Gillies kept mentioning his experiences being with the team during the NHL playoffs as one of the year’s highlights. He repeatedly praised his organizational netminding teammates for teaching him things, though he noted it was primary by osmosis – as Gillies has a rather old-school mentality regarding picking the brains of older veteran players.
“I just watched how they carried themselves and stuff like that,” said Gillies. “I didn’t want to say too much because I got there on the day of the game. I know that rookies are seen, not heard, and I tried to never speak unless spoken to, and things like that and just soak up all the information I could. It was an incredible experience for me to see how those guys carry themselves on and off the ice, how much camaraderie there is in that locker room, how everyone’s rooting for each other to do well. It was a real eye-opening experience and it was a lot of fun.”
Gillies leaves college hockey with a pretty impressive resume, including a World Junior gold medal, an NCAA championship, and honours as his conference’s top netminder. While none of those are guarantors of future success as a professional, if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about his future and the future of Calgary’s crease, he’s definitely done what he can to provide them.