Over the last few months, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been calling up rookie after rookie. We have seen our share of promising forwards, gritty fourth-liners and solid blue-liners. Of all of the young talent that has been summoned to this juncture, head coach Dan Bylsma may want to scratch Brian Gibbons on his roster for more than a couple weeks.
The 25-year-old forward is showing great progress throughout his first several games in the NHL, and he is doing so with shades of longtime Penguin Marty Straka. The similarity in size is definitely there, the speed is also resembling and much like Straka, Gibbons seems to have a pass-first mentality on the ice. But not so much in the ballpark of Evgeni Malkin when he goes through a slew of games refusing to shoot the puck.
His hockey IQ is fairly high, and he has a good sense of when to pinch on a particular play in the defensive zone. And despite being 5-foot-8″, 170-pounds he plays as though he is Zdeno Chara when forechecking and working the puck deep in the zone. These are all great attributes that may not show up on paper, however, they seem apparent due to the fact he is finding himself skating on the top line in four consecutive games.
With Pascal Dupuis out for the remainder of the season, Bylsma has had to plug in certain players on the top line due to the endless list of injuries. Gibbons has recently filled that void on the wing next to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. With four points in his last four games, he may be in line to be Dupuis’ replacement indefinitely.
Straka was always one of the bigger threats because once he got a clean break up ice there was no catching him. There were times when Straka would go from behind his own net and within the blink of an eye be in the offensive zone as if he were shot out of a cannon. Gibbons has this ability as well as he showed Tuesday night in the team’s 5-4 win in Vancouver. He got in behind the defense and scored on a clean breakaway, beating Eddie Lack five-hole.
The question remains if he will stay in the NHL once players slowly start to come back. Before wingers began to drop like flies, Beau Bennett was placed on the top line momentarily.
Even when Bennett returns to the lineup, Bylsma is better off allowing his new top line to develop a known chemistry in order to create depth going down the lineup. Obviously, it is hard to break up Malkin, James Neal and Jussi Jokinen at this point as they are arguably the best second line in hockey. This leaves the option to drop Bennett to the third line with Brandon Sutter and Taylor Pyatt.
Then again, trying to predict what Bylsma will do with his lines is like one hand clapping in the forest; it’s helpless. Disco Dan is and always will be an enigma.