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Local hockey prospects prepare for NHL Draft

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Staring down a 3-1 deficit in the Under-18 World Championships, net minder John Gibson never wilted. He sat calmly in the crease, his bulky 6-3, 200-pound frame allowing only fragments of the net to be exposed to his Swedish opponents.

While most 17 year olds might be spending their late April days prepping for graduation and summer, Gibson, along with teammates J.T. Miller and Barrett Kaib, was halfway around the world in Crimmitschau, Germany, representing his country against some of the best junior hockey talent in the world.

In the process of representing their country, the trio helped stamp Pittsburgh as a growing hotbed of hockey talent. In addition to the play of the Team USA teammates, Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck offer further proof of how much hockey has grown in this area since the days of Lemieux and Jagr while playing in the Ontario Hockey League.

After letting three goals slip by him, Gibson, a Whitehall native, had to clear his head and settle into a groove. A goaltender can have all the talent in the world, but will only be as good as his poise on the ice.

Many scouts have marveled at his combination of size and athleticism, but his biggest fans are the men who have coached him.

“John is very gifted. He has the right mentality to play this game,” said Jeff Potter, head coach of the Pittsburgh Hornets midget team, which all five players were members of at some point.

“Central scouting people say he is an NHL goalie, and I would certainly concur with their opinion,” Potter said.

Gibson, who has committed to Michigan in the fall, has the brightest prospects of the three Team USA teammates. He had dominant numbers during the tournament, finishing with a 2.34 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and a perfect 6-0 record.

As the highest rated goalie prospect in this draft, he figures to be taken in the first round.

“He’s the number one ranked goalie prospect in North America, and in my eyes, the world,” said Joe Exter, goaltending coach for Team USA. “That in itself comes with a lot of responsibility and opportunity.”

For Miller, that 3-1 deficit in the final game was a chance for him to display his skill set to his coaches, teammates and scouts in attendance.

The 6-1, 193 pound forward from Moon, PA, is a highly touted prospect himself. Like Gibson, he projects to be taken in the first round, being ranked as the number 14 prospect overall by the Red Line Report.

However, there is no question where Miller will be in the fall: playing for the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota.

Miller told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he plans on attending college for at least a year.

“Whatever comes after that is whatever comes,” he said.

Miller demonstrated his ability as one of the top forwards at his age while in Germany. He added two assists in the waning moments as Team USA came back to beat Sweden, 4-3, in the championship match. That went along with four goals scored and another seven assists during the tournament to finish with a team-high 13 points.

Along with Gibson, who was given the directorate award as best goalie, Miller was chosen as one of Team USA’s top three players by tournament coaches.

“Miller has a ton of ability and has realized that ability,” Exter said. “The sky is the limit for him.”

Barrett Kaib, on the other hand, didn’t have the glitzy numbers of his teammates. Being a defenseman, Kaib had to rely on working hard each shift to keep the other team off balance.

Hailing from Upper St. Clair, PA, Kaib went to work following his team’s rally, which gave him the chance to show his game off by battling on the boards, causing turnovers and disrupting the Swedish players’ offensive play.

What he does on the ice doesn’t necessarily translate well to the box score, but his numbers still show his presence being felt. He notched two assists and finished with a plus-7 rating during the tournament, tied for tops among team defenseman.

Still, the 5-9, 182-pound blue liner has been knocked by some scouts because of his size, saying it may be a detriment to his draft status.

“Barrett will be picked in the later rounds, or not picked at all,” said Team USA Head Coach Ron Rolston. “But he is still a very good all-around defenseman that plays with an edge.”

Kaib will attend Providence College in the fall, and will be under the tutelage of a new coaching staff led by Nate Leaman.

However, all of his coaches agreed that Kaib comes up with big hits and blocked shots at key moments. Those skills were needed down the stretch as Team USA clinched the gold-medal game.

No matter what happens from here, these three players have represented Pittsburgh youth hockey well. Their play has determined that they can succeed at a higher level. All that’s left to anticipate is where their names are called on June 24 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the day of the NHL Draft.

“They’re all talented kids and they’re driven, even at a young age,” remarked Potter. “They’ll all have success.”

While Pittsburgh was well represented during the U18 World Championships, two other local players were making significant marks on the professional level.

Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck both starred for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, helping their team win the Western Division title.

Saad, the 6-2, 210-pound winger, started hot for the Spirit, scoring 20 goals in the first half of the season. He slowed down during the latter part of the campaign, but still finished with 27 goals and 55 points in 59 games played.

The Gibsonia native was once projected to be a top-10 pick, but still figures to be taken in the first round. His speed and power are the assets that make him a great talent, and many scouts say he has all the tools necessary to become a productive NHL player.

Trocheck, at 5-11 and 180 pounds, isn't blessed with his teammate's size, but still managed to put up solid numbers for the Spirit this past season. The center scored 26 goals and had 62 points in 68 games.

Trocheck, who attended high school near Detroit but hails from Pittsburgh originally, is projected anywhere from the second-round to the fourth-round.

Both players have benefited from playing on the same line together while with the Spirit, so it will be interesting to see how they pan out once broken up – that is, unless some team ends up drafting both of them in separate rounds.

Now that their seasons are over, the boys can look forward to the NHL draft June 24-25, where their dreams of becoming NHL players can finally become reality.

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