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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson / USA TODAY Sports

Prospect wrap-up: Jon Gillies

Goaltending has been plaguing the Flames for some long and painful years. Every solution brought in has, despite occasional flashes of promise, never been a permanent one.

But there was always the hope of Jon Gillies. The 2012 third rounder has been a stud at every level, and has excited Flames fans for years. His ever-approaching arrival to the league, many have felt, would be the start of a new era of Calgary Flames goaltending. One that would be homegrown, long-term, and above all else, very good.

But after a year that went a bit backwards, a lot of that is thrown into doubt.

Brief history

Since entering the organization after the 2012 draft, Gillies has been a blue chipper and the goalie of the future. He was immediately handed the reins to the Providence net, playing in 35 of 38 games in his freshman year and posting a .931 SV%. Gillies also scooped up a boatload of honours that year, being named to the NCAA second all-American team, the Hockey East first all-star team, the Hockey East all-rookie team, and the D1 all-star team for the New England region. He also picked up Rookie of the Year honours for both the Hockey East and New England. Oh, and a WJC gold medal, but he only played one game.

The next year was more of the same. He played 34 of 39 games for Providence, put up a .931 SV%, and won the starting gig for Team USA at the WJC, although they did not medal. His final year in college saw him lead the Friars to the National Championship, as he was named the tournament’s MVP and was placed on the tournament all-star team. This was in addition to another NCAA second all-American nod, a Hockey East first all-star team nod, and the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year award.

With all this luggage, Gillies headed west to Stockton for his professional debut. He lit it up for his first few games, but suffered a hip injury which required season-ending surgery just seven games into the season.

2016-17 performance

SV% Shots against Goals against
# (Rank) 0.910 (22nd) 1196 (14th) 108 (31st)

Ranked against the 46 goalies the AHL considers as qualified goalies, 1440 minutes played.

Not that great! He did face a heavier workload, about five shots more per game than the year before (sample size of seven games, however), but also allowed 0.7 more goals per game. Over the course of everything, he ranks a smidge above average in save percentage.

Gillies had high highs and low lows, but unfortunately more of the latter than the former. He only performed above his previous year’s level 17 of 39 times. Some games, he got shellacked in high scoring affairs (the average SV% among qualified goalies was .909, suggesting that it’s pretty darn easy to score goals in the AHL), but sometimes, he was just bad. Consistency was a minor issue this year, and it seems a bit concerning that he was not able to win the starting job from a Czech import that was mostly an unknown quantity.

Quotable

As usual, we turn to Brandon Kisker for his perspective. First off, why did Gillies have some struggles this year?

I’m not sure if I’d use the word struggled… kind of tough to expect a kid who hadn’t played hockey in a year to pick right up where he left off after a National Championship and his start last year. He’s a young guy who really was in his rookie season and was adjusting still to the speed and skill in the AHL along with playing competitive hockey after his injury sidelined him for so long. I think that had more to do with anything.

So where does Gillies need to improve to make that final step into the NHL?

Consistency. Isn’t that the key for every goalie? When Jon is hot, you can’t help but think of his immense potential and get excited for his future and for the future of the Flames’ netminding. You watch Jon make the caliber of saves that puts guys like Carey Price, Pekka Rinne and co. in the NHL and then watch him give up a top corner shot. That’s the frustrating part. It’s not something I’d be concerned with yet, but I think entering his second full season, Jon will need to show that level of consistency to prove he’s ready for something bigger than AHL hockey.

Final thoughts

The Flames’ goaltending picture is still a mess. We don’t know what’s happening and we won’t know for some time.

Does Gillies factor in next year? The presumed logic behind trading for Brian Elliott on an expiring deal and signing Chad Johnson to just a one-year deal would be that the team would have at least one open spot for Gillies. It seems the plan all along was to allow Gillies to recover from his hip injury, demolish the competition, and take an NHL role in 2017-18.

That’s a bit delayed because of the sudden questions this season raised. Is he actually suited to the role yet? Will he need another year? Was this season just bad luck? If so, is it a smart bet to assume he’s the #2 next year?

David Rittich also complicates this issue. I’m not sure what people were expecting from him, but I doubt anyone would think Rittich would be a challenger for that #2 NHL role. The Czech import stole the show, and will likely have his name in the running for an NHL job next year. Of course, if one is in, the other is out. Rittich being good keeps Gillies in the AHL.

There’s also the possibility that Gillies might have more value away from the club. With a few NHL spots needing improvement, limited draft capital, Rittich being pretty good, and Tyler Parsons joining the AHL next year, there’s a chance the Flames could use Gillies as bait for a high end player. That’s in the bold section, but it remains a possibility.

But it’s 95% likely he remains a Flame next year. I’m not sure which level of the org he’ll be playing in or in which role, but he’ll be here. Hopefully, if he remains healthy, he can challenge for an NHL spot sooner rather than later in the season.

Again, all of this is merely reading tea leaves right now. Maybe we’ll have a clearer answer later.

Previously

Andrew Mangiapane, Emile Poirier, Austin Carroll, Morgan Klimchuk, Mark Jankowski, Hunter Shinkaruk, Rasmus Andersson, Kenney Morrison, Tyler Wotherspoon, Oliver Kylington, Stepan Falkovsky, Keegan Kanzig/Mason McDonald, Ryan Culkin/Brett Pollock, Mitchell Mattson, Adam Fox, Brandon HickeyRiley Bruce/Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons, Eetu Tuulola, Matt Phillips, Dillon Dube, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Linus Lindstrom, Pavel Karnaukhov/Rushan Rafikov, Tim Harrison

  • Gfountyyc

    I wouldn’t fault the kid for playing behind a lack lustre team in the ahl. In the last few years the flames have been Dreadful at developing players. He has the potential to be a top tier goalie if the team around him play sound defensive hockey.

  • deantheraven

    Of the two, it seem Rittich has earned a shot at the 1a/b on the Flames next season. Another year in the A will give us a better idea of whether Gillies has already reached his ceiling or not. Of course, Parsons coming in will keep things interesting in Stockton, too.

    • Eggs Bennett

      Not meaningful at all. Ortio came into the NHL hot in 2014/15 and flickered out less than a season later. I do hope Gillies can rebound and do better though…

    • freethe flames

      If that is the case then having a guy who can be a #1 would be the way to go, have them earn their position. Both Gilles and Rittich showed they deserve a chance to earn a spot.

  • L.Kolkind

    I really like Gilles and I am just recovering from the same hip surgery that he had last year. I was informed by my doctor that this next hockey season I can expect to play slightly worse than I previously was for the 1st season. I think Gilles probably experienced the same thing. To be safe I would like to see him in the AHL to start the year. Rittich can backup Johnson and provide reasonable goaltending while Gilles finally gets fully adjusted to playing after hip surgery.

    One thing to remember with Parsons and McDonald is that they both will stil need to get the same hip surgery Gilles had. Pushing Gilles up a level to make room for Parsons doesn’t make sense as Parsons will likely either get surgery either this year or next same with McDonald. Many have written off McDonald, however, he was advertised as a project and still has the tools to eventually put it together.