There may have been a switch at the top of NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft, but no such adjustment was needed atop the list of best domestic goaltenders.
As was the case in the mid-term report in January, John Gibson of the U.S. National Team Development Program and Christopher Gibson (no relation) of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League held their spots at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.
"The top two guys have a very similar style … there's not much separation other than consistency," Al Jensen, Central Scouting's top goalie scout, told NHL.com. "I think John has maybe been a little more consistent in his game over the course of the year. But it's a very fine line between these two. I have no problems saying they are quality goalies, and as I followed them, it just solidified my thinking of how good they really are.
"I feel they are both first round-caliber goalies. If I'm an NHL team looking for a goalie, I'd have zero problems choosing either one of them."
In 32 games with the Under-18 team this season, John Gibson went 17-10-3 mark a 2.64 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. The University of Michigan-bound goalie also compiled a 3-1-0 record, 2.25 GAA and .930 save percentage in four international games.
"Overall, I just think John has such a good feel for the net," Jensen said. "He's very good positionally and plays big. He possesses good quickness and good strength and he's got all the attributes that a pro goalie needs to be a top-end goalie."
Christopher Gibson went 14-15-8, but led the league with a .920 save percentage and was second with a 2.42 GAA and four shutouts.
"He's got that look about him in the net," Jensen said. "When you see him, you say to yourself this kid really does look like a goalie. He has great balance and spreads out very well. He's got the make-up to be a pro goalie, the strength and knowledge that you need. He's got quick feet, but what really sticks out in my mind is his positioning, the way he covers the net. I really like the way he battles in there, too."
After the big two at the top, however, Jensen did make a few notable changes. Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack (OHL) jumped from No. 7 in the mid-term ranking to No. 3. Matt McNeeley, John Gibson's partner at the USNTDP, climbed to No. 4 after being No. 5 in the mid-term ranking. Stephen Michalek of the Loomis-Chaffee School (Windsor, Conn.) moved up one spot to No. 5.
Here's what Jensen had to say about each of the three goalies rounding out the top five:
3. Jordan Binnington, Owen Sound: The 6-foot-1 1/4, 156-pounder finished 27-12-5 with a 3.05 GAA and .899 save percentage in 46 appearances -- the most games of any goalie listed in the top five. Binnington also logged the most minutes in goal among the first 18 keepers on the domestic list with 2,596.
"He started the year off slow, but I've seen enough of him and have seen improvement," Jensen said. "What he lacked in the beginning of the year was confidence. When starter Scott Stajcer got hurt, he played in a lot of games for a 17-year-old kid. He's similar to John Gibson in the way he moves to get set. He's at the top of the crease and looks big in the net. When he goes down, I've seen a lot of shots hit him in the shoulder; he's always square. Is he at the level he needs to be at the pro level? No, but I've seen improvements. I know he's going to even get bigger and better."
4. Matt McNeely, USNTDP: McNeely is unlike his partner at the USNTDP because he's more flashy and daring between the pipes. However, it was effective, as McNeely, bound for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall, finished 9-12-1 with a 3.82 GAA and .893 save percentage.
"I think he's trying to play it like (Jack) Campbell (the 11th pick in 2010 by the Dallas Stars)," Jensen said. "He dances and flies around in the net, but has some holes. He's very quick, very athletic and has great drive and determination, but he's overanxious and overreacts, and at times, that's what hurts Campbell. The thing is, John Gibson cannot play like Campbell, but McNeely does have that ability."
5. Stephen Michalek, Loomis-Chaffee School: Michalek, who is bound for Harvard, is the top-rated scholastic goalie on Central Scouting's list of domestic goaltenders. He could be a sleeper, too. The 6-1 3/4, 183-pounder sported a 3.95 GAA and .918 save percentage while making over 1,000 saves for a prep team that finished 3-20-2 in 2010-11. He also earned a silver medal for the U.S. at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this past August.
"Every time I've seen the kid play, he takes between 50 and 60 shots," Jensen said. "In a way, it was good because plenty of scouts got to see him. He plays big and is very good laterally. When he's in his butterfly he looks big, he's smooth and controlled. He's very composed and he battles and fights through traffic to track the puck well."
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