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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson / USA TODAY Sports

FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects: #11 Jon Gillies

Coming out of college, Jon Gillies looked like the Calgary Flames’ next homegrown starting goaltender. Unfortunately the 23-year-old has run into a series of obstacles at the pro level, to the degree that his status as a premier prospect has dimmed considerably since this time last year.

Dropping from third to 11th in our rankings, Gillies remains a player of interest in Calgary’s system, but he’s no longer the obvious heir apparent in the crease.

A brief history

A third round pick in 2012 coming out of the USHL, the towering 6’6″ netminder immediately grabbed the starter’s reins for Providence College, despite being an 18-year-old freshman. Gillies finished the season as one of the best goalies in the league, managing a .931 SV% while being named to the Hockey East first all-star team.

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The next two years in college were similarly successful. His save rate was eerily stable (.931, .931, .930), he was named to the 2014 USA World Junior Team, he led the Friars to an NCAA title, and he was chosen as the Frozen Four’s most outstanding player.

His impressive resume marked Gillies as a highly anticipated prospect when he turned pro in 2015. Unfortunately, his first pro season was cut to just seven games by a lingering hip ailment that required surgery. His highly anticipated debut was put on pause.

Gillies re-started his debut this past season but struggled under the weight of expectations after a year on the shelf. He duelled with newcomer David Rittich for the starter’s role in Stockton, eventually ceding the crease for long stretches. Gillies finished the year with a mediocre .910 SV% in the AHL (22nd best in the league), although he did impress in his first NHL game where he made 27 saves en route to a win over the L.A. Kings.

Quotable

Stockton Heat head coach Ryan Huska noted that Gillies’ injury-free season did carry with it a new challenge: dealing with being a full-time pro and having to compete for starts with teammate David Rittich.

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He had to deal with some challenges for the first time, and really this was his first professional year. So learning how to be a pro was one thing that was a big step for him. Learning how he has to come to the rink with the right attitude and ready to make himself better each and every time he steps onto the ice, whether that be games or practices, and handling some adversity.

In years past Jon was always the guy that was going to get the net all the time and learning and having to deal with a guy that was pushing him really hard from behind, I think, gave him great experience. I think it’s going to put him in a position where he’s going to come back even better than we saw this year where now the injury’s fully behind him. He’s got a year under his belt and we’re going to see him take some really good strides moving forward.

In Goal Magazine’s Greg Balloch shared his thoughts on Gillies’ game.

At 6-foot-5, he is an intimidating physical presence in the net. He plays into his size well by using short, efficient routes in the crease. He also likes to pre-set on the post early, but is still able to get across quickly simply because of his long legs and powerful pushes while in the butterfly. His skating and overall footwork from a standing position was an area that he needed to improve when he was drafted. Despite missing a big chunk of time with injuries since turning pro, he certainly has improved in that regard. He’s right on the cusp of breaking through as a full-time NHL goaltender, and is one of the most exciting young goaltenders to keep an eye on this upcoming season.

What comes next?

The Flames desperately need one of their goaltending prospects to figure things out over the next couple of years, and by all rights Gillies should be at the head of the line. His mediocre first season will be quickly forgotten if he can re-establish himself as the true starter in Stockton and one of the top goaltenders in the AHL.

On the other hand, Gillies is now battling for organizational space with guys like Rittich and upstart Tyler Parsons. Another underwhelming year may see him passed on the depth chart and dropped further in our prospect rankings.

Previously

#20 – Ryan Lomberg #19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson
#18 – Daniel Pribyl #17 – Eetu Tuulola
#16 – Adam Ruzicka #15 – Emile Poirier
#14 – David Rittich #13 – Hunter Shinkaruk
#12 – Matthew Phillips


  • BurningSensation

    Until the hiccup last year, Gillies was my bet to be the future franchise netminder we’ve craved since Kipper.

    He’s still my bet, albeit at longer odds.

    Here’s to the big guy blowing the doors off this season, seizing the day, and making Lack expendable.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    “Another underwhelming year may see him passed on the depth chart and dropped further in our prospect rankings.”

    Another underwhelming year may see him playing in different colours, as we will want to capture some value from him as Rittich becomes the back-up at the NHL and Parsons owns the crease in Stockton for a full year before taking over for Smith.

    • Kevin R

      This is a very big year for Jon. The shame of it all was the year he went down with that hip injury was the nightmare year for our goalies with injuries, Ramo, Hiller et al Had he been healthy, things could have looked a lot different & Im sure he would have gotten at least 20 games under his belt. Oh well…forward & onward. I am pulling for him but by next June, Lack is gone & one of Riitch or Gilles will be backup to Smith & I see Parsons getting all the starts in Stockton the following year even though I think he should be in Stockton this year. One of Gilles or Riitch are going to drop big time on the depth chart at the end of next year.

  • FuNky ANGER

    I’ve read before that a hip injury like his takes a long time before it fully heals. Could have played a role in his weaker than expected numbers in Stockton; along with turning Pro and learning to share the net. This year however it should be near 100% healed. Should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • Crazy Flames

    Gillies did look like the better goalie in his one game vs the Kings compared to Rittich and his half game. I thought Gillies looked fairly comfortable, better movements, and the team looked more comfortable in front of him. Such a small sample size its impossible to really know. Hopefully the Flames give him a few more NHL games this season. I’ve never thought our previous goalie prospects have looked all that great in their short stints in the NHL (Berra, Ortio, and Irving come to mind as the most recent).

    Hopefully Smith and Lack come ready to play and look like the goalies they have been in the past. I was impressed with Lack after Carolina called him out, and felt that he finished the season fairly strong. But it would not hurt my feelings if Smith or Lack had some injury time giving Gillies and Rittich some time to actually play in the NHL. Having 5 NHL capable D-men (Gio and Hamilton being bonafide allstars) should help the goalies this season.

  • buts

    I hope the flames are patient with Jon. Goalies take a longer time to mature into pros. Kipper took till he was 27, Craig Anderson is an example of a goalie that was not given enough time by the flames. I’m not a fan of Gillies when he drops into the butterfly too quickly but this is something he will learn as he matures….hopefully. Parson’s reminds me of Quick in LA and with Gillies, Schneider and Rittich the future is very bright in the flames net. Getting Smith and Lack while these young goalies learn the ropes was a very smart move by BT

    • Cfan in Van

      I agree, but also realize that to manage all of Rittich, Gilles and Parsons with the patience is going to be difficult. It’s looking like they are all going to be progressing along a similar timeline, and there are only so many spots in which to play. It’s going to be challenging to give them all the space they need to grow.

  • kipper2004

    The Flames being patient with Gillies is the key. He does have the potential to be the next Bishop, who also took several years to make his mark. Parsons may have the agility and “stop anything” attitude but Gillies has the ultimate size factor that can tip the scale in a league where inches are the difference based on shooter accuracy and tips, and Gillies has the extra inches (insert joke) for todays game. A future tandem of Parsons and Gillies does sound great!

  • Purple Hazze

    I find the Lack trade to be frustrating. By all means, the back-up job should have been a battle between Gillies and Rittich this year, it also would have prevented the 3 goalie problem that will have to be dealt with in the minors now. Gillies averaged a .930 save % over 3 years in the NCAA, a developmental league just as good as the AHL, why does he continue to need to “prove” himself to even get a shot at the NHL? Furthermore, since when does success at the AHL level automatically translate into success at the NHL level? Here’s some examples:
    -Price played 12 games in the AHL
    -Rask 102 GP, averaging .911
    -Duknyk 95 GP, averaging .909
    -Talbot 115 GP, averaging .914
    -Rinne 145 GP, averaging .909
    -Luongo 29 GP, averaging .909
    -Allen, 172 GP, averaging .917
    -Crawford, 255 GP, averaging .908
    -Holtby, 132 GP, averaging .917
    -C. Anderson, 146 GP, averaging .913

    I just listed 30% of the starters in the league who never “proved” themselves in the AHL yet found success in the NHL. What would make this analysis even more interesting is all the goalies that have had success in the AHL but could never crack the NHL.

    With the success and pedigree he brought from the NCAA I feel he already earned his shot of at least a backup role. The good thing about the Smith trade is we can almost guarantee an injury with him, so hopefully we see Gillies up in the NHL sooner rather than later.

    • piscera.infada

      I’ve said this since the trade was made: the Lack trade does not ensure that neither Gillies, Rittich, nor Parsons won’t get a crack at the backup job should they prove better in preseason/camp than Lack. His contract is easily bury-able or waived. The Flames also have no real allegiance to him. If he doesn’t crack the big club in favour of one of the others, he will likely find himself in the ECHL or loaned to another AHL team. Lack was quite simply acquired if one of those prospect goalies don’t show they’re ready–you can’t just pigeonhole a prospect goalie into a back-up NHL spot because you want one to be ready–and if none of the 4 prove to be NHL quality, then well, you’re in trouble, but I’d still default to AHL playing time for my real prospects.

      Further, all of those goalies (save for Price and Luongo–both top-5 picks) have 2, 3, 4, or 5 times the number of AHL games either Gillies (47 AHL games), or Rittich (35 AHL games) have played. I certainly think there is some merit to playing in the NCAA or Czech League versus the CHL in terms of quality, but I’m not sure I’m willing to bank on that either. The trade was simply about mitigating risk for the price of a nowhere near NHL prospect (Kanzig), moving down from the 6th to 7th round in the next draft, and $137,000.00 against the cap for the next two years.

      • Kevin R

        Yup, at 1.0 mill we can bury Lack in Stockton if Gilles or Riitch outshine & stick with the Flames. & if Parsons is in Stockton as well, then maybe Lack can start his apprenticeship as a goalie coach down there. Can they carry 3 goalies down there?

        • piscera.infada

          I honestly don’t think they would carry 3 at the AHL level. If Lack can’t make the team his career (at least in the near future) is probably over at the NHL level.

    • piscera.infada

      I will agree with you that relative “success” at the AHL level isn’t necessary (as you pointed out) to be ready to be an NHL goalie. That said, I still understand why the Flames coaches and management would want to objectively see that they’re ready, as opposed to assuming that they’re ready because (as I said earlier) they “should be”. The Lack acquisition doesn’t stand in the way of that.

    • cjc

      I think it’s fair to say that Gillies hasn’t done anything to take himself OUT of the discussion at this point. He just hasn’t forced management’s hand yet, and I think that is fine. What I don’t like is that Calgary has more pro-goalie’s than they have jobs available. It’s hard to think that Rittich or Gillies couldn’t have helped land a player like Darling, Raanta or even Grubauer. Who knows what went on behind the scenes, but I was pretty frustrated to see Smith as the choice (and such a high price paid) when Smith should have been plan F or G. I have a lotta time for Brad Treliving, but he hasn’t done the greatest job with our goaltending situation. Here’s hoping that the Smith plan works out though.

  • MWflames

    Gillies could possibly be one of the top 3 goalies in the ahl next year. He may not, but it’s certainly not out of the question. And he’s 11 on our top propsects list… interesting I guess

  • Just.Visiting

    Awww. Flames Nation was doing so well on the rankings until this point. Mind you, Janko was number 11 last year too.

    Who among us would be willing to trade Gillies even up for Mange, Dube or Klimchuk? They are probably the next three prospects on this list. I suspect that there are very few of us who have Gillies this low on their own lists.

    While Gillies’ star has fallen somewhat relative to the expectations we had for him last year, it does not follow that he should be lower than 7 (the elite prospects) on the top 20 list.

    I continue to like him a lot. I like the size and skill. I thought that he looked great in his one start. And I like the way that he carries himself with the media.

    I hope that the backup is chosen based on merit in camp vs a default into Lack that would require Rittich or Gillies to be the next Carey Price at camp to displace Lack. As noted in one of the comments above, we create a problem for ourselves if Rittich or Gillies is not the backup.

    • Cfan in Van

      I’m assuming a large part of his ranking here has to do with the massive uncertainty revolving around his injury recovery and loss of playing time over the last 2 years. Could he live up to pedigree? Sure. Will he? That answer looks a lot murkier that it was last year.

    • Cheeky

      Hmmm there is no way GG doesn’t play his comfort blanket in Lack over Gillies. We have seen it with Vey and Bartowski so can’t see another Van cast off not played by him.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Watching Gillies all last year made me pull my hair out at times. You knew he was going to let in a soft goal at some point in the game. He has flashes of brilliance but also flashes of his first time on the ice. I thought Riddich was a better goalie throughout the year, as proved in the numbers and by who Huska rode down the stretch. John definitely needs a stellar year to prove himself, or he will be passed by Riddich and Parsons. Here is hoping I get a chance to see Tyler Parsons in Stockton this year.