Drafted six years ago, Jon Gillies’ career, to date, has featured its fair share of ups and downs. Throughout college he was phenomenal, but the adjustment to pro – and, indeed, to playing in the NHL – has been a bit more rocky.
As one of the best goalies available to the Flames, though, he could find himself regularly in the NHL sooner rather than later. The 6’6, 223 lb. 24-year-old goalie clocks in at ninth on our 2018 top prospects list, up two spots from his 11th ranking in 2017.
How did we get here?
When the Flames selected Gillies in the 2012 draft, he was coming off of a pretty decent USHL season, having improved his earlier .906 save percentage over 25 games with the Indiana Ice to .915 (fifth best in the league) in 53 games. Then, it was off to three remarkably consistent seasons of NCAA play at Providence College – season save percentages of .931, .931, and .930, including a Frozen Four championship in his final year – plus two World Juniors appearances, one as a starter (with a .892 save percentage over four games, but you know how much to trust small sample sizes).
That set the stage of high expectations for Gillies’ first professional season in 2015-16. Unfortunately, after just seven games – good games, featuring a .920 save percentage – he required hip surgery that ended his season.
Take two for Gillies’ time as a pro came in 2016-17, during which he played 39 games as the Stockton Heat’s starter, posting a not-as-promising .910 save percentage (behind undrafted teammate David Rittich by .014 points with just eight more games played), ranking seventh amongst AHL rookies, and tied for 37th overall (with former Flame Reto Berra, amazingly enough). He also posted a .915 save percentage over three playoff games before the Heat were knocked out in the first round.
Gillies also made his NHL debut in 2016-17, stopping 27 of 28 shots for a .964 save percentage in a meaningless late season game. It wouldn’t quite set the stage for his following season.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
In 2017-18, Gillies’ overall AHL performance improved from the previous year, and injuries gave him the chance to get in more NHL games.
In the AHL, Gillies was the team’s primary starter, and had the 17th best save percentage among goalies with at least 15 games played.
In the NHL, his first game was a relief effort in the midst of a blowout that unfairly knocked his save percentage down a few points. His final four games were also four of the Flames’ five final games of the year, after which they had been eliminated from playoff competition, making them pretty meaningless. Of the remaining six games he played, one was a relief appearance in a slightly less disastrous blowout.
So, in Gillies’ five meaningful starts at the NHL level, he posted save percentages over .920 three times and under .900 twice.
His even strength save percentage over his 11 NHL games, however, was .886.
For a deeper dive into Gillies’ numbers, revisit Christian Tiberi’s writeup on him here.
Those in the know
Cail MacLean, Stockton’s former assistant coach and new head coach who worked with and saw Gillies throughout his AHL days this past season, is pretty excited about what’s to come for the young goalie:
I think that Jon basically just needs to continue to work the process and continue to find those small gains in his games. When I look at Jon as a goaltender he gives coaches confidence because he understands the position, he takes up a lot of net, but at the same time he has athleticism to utilize in situations where necessary, and he’s got a good calm demeanour in net. I think there’s so many positive things. He’s going to be a great goaltender. It’s a matter of him staying with the process, making those little adjustments through his goaltending coaches, and continuing to improve along the path that he’s been on and I think he’s going to make that jump.
And of course, our resident Stockton’s Finest, who has had the chance to watch Gillies more often than the rest of us:
I have been critical of “glove side high” most of the year, but I still think he is the third best goalie in the system. When he is on his game, he is tough to beat. He has tunnel vision and stays in the moment. But once he gives up a soft goal, he tends to let in a few more before getting back to his normal self. He is slow back to his skates after he goes down.
On the horizon
From training camp on, it’s going to be a big season for Gillies. This doesn’t have to be his make or break season: the Flames extended him for another two years, making him the only goalie in the organization with notable professional experience currently signed through 2019-20, so there’s still a bit of time.
But the sooner Gillies can start proving himself an NHL-level regular, the better for both him and the Flames. There’s a backup job open this season, and potentially a starter’s for the next. If Gillies can establish himself over the course of 2018-19, then that may solve a lot of problems on the horizon. If he can’t, then that does leave a window open for him – but may also force the Flames to look at other options by next summer’s time as well.
He can still be the team’s goalie of the future, and while his performances since he became a pro may not be as encouraging as his college years, there’s been continued growth. There’s still plenty of promise there.
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