Right now is a rare time for Leafs Nation, a time in which they can smile and take pride in the performance of Toronto’s prospects playing in major junior hockey. Erie Otters captain Connor Brown was recently named OHL MVP after a 128 point season, Guelph Storm captain Matt Finn has led his team to the Memorial Cup Final, and Frederik Gauthier scored nine points in eleven playoff games with Rimouski.
Yet the most attention being paid to a Leafs prospect right now is at 2013 6th round pick, Val-d’Or goalie, Antoine Bibeau.
Bibeau was acquired mid-season from Charlottetown, and may be the final piece the Foreurs needed for a championship team. Along with Red Wings draftee Anthony Mantha, Bibeau has had an excellent playoff run, and may have saved his best hockey for when it matters most. In the Memorial Cup round robin, Bibeau posted an impressive 51-save shutout against London, and then turned away another 47 shots in an OT win over Edmonton, allowing Val-d’Or to be only victory away from the Memorial Cup final.
Though many in Leafs Nation are impressed with Bibeau’s outstanding play in the Memorial Cup round robin, so much so that a friend of mine even dubbed him “the future of Toronto’s goaltending,” is Bibeau the real deal?
On a greater scale, Bibeau’s game has not been as spectacular as he has been this spring. He began the year with an 8-16-0 record, though that was with a mediocre Charlottetown squad, though he did manage to post a respectable .911 SV%. After being traded to a far superior Val-d’Or club, he faced less shots per game, dropping from 36.9 to 30.5, yet his individual numbers did not improve by much. Though his GAA fell from 3.29 to 3.03, his SV% was actually worse with Val-d’Or, at .900 after 26 regular season games.
While Bibeau has many good qualities to him; he’s big and covers a lot of net, he’s very agile, especially going from post-to-post, and generally has strong positioning, he has a fairly large flaw in his game, that being his rebound control. While he makes a lot of saves, as he did against London and Edmonton, he may be creating more shots against than need be, as he tends to kick pucks into the slot creating rebounds and scoring chances for the opposition, something evident when the Foreurs were blown out by Guelph in game two of the round robin. When discussing Bibeau with LWOS head hockey writer Ben Kerr, the rebound problem was the first thing he commented on regarding Bibeau. In fact, looking back on a review I wrote of the Leafs rookie camp last September, I gave Bibeau a thumbs down for his lack of rebound control and for giving up a few soft goals.
By no means am I saying up the Leafs and the fan base should give up on Antoine Bibeau right now, as he does have the tools to potentially become a quality goalie. He’s a project goalie at the moment, and if he can improve that lack of rebound control over a couple season in the AHL with the Marlies, he could become an all-around, solid netminder. Considering the Leafs history of developing goalies though, I hope Bibeau does succeed down the road. Aside from Felix Potvin and arguably James Reimer, the Leafs have a poor history with developing young goalies, whether that be giving up early on Bernie Parent, throwing Allan Bester and Ken Wregget into action too early on horrible teams, choosing the wrong prospect in Justin Pogge while trading Tuukka Rask, and over-hyping someone as they did with Jonas Gustavsson.
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