Tom Gilbert is a very nice hockey player, made even more valuable because he came at such a small cost (11 minutes of Tommy Gun).
If this were 1972 we’d read in magazines like HOCKEY WORLD that he “is already an expert at the headman pass and showed exceptional restraint for a rookie” and he is in fact both of those things and more.
Gilbert had a shaky second half of the season as reflected by his splits:
First 41gp: 7-7-14, +3
Second 41gp: 6-13-19, -9
We know from our own collective memories he struggled in the second half but I don’t know how much we can take from that and apply it to the coming season. It’s my guess as many rookie defensemen struggled in the second half as take time to adapt and then find their way. Either way, it was a challenging year but a success by any measure. Let’s take the 7 defensemen on the roster currently at list their NHL even strength time-on-ice in 07-08 (from nhl.com):
- Steve Staios 17:52
- Tom Gilbert 17:24
- Lubomir Visnovsky 16:59
- Sheldon Souray 16:04
- Ladislav Smid 15:08
- Denis Grebeshkov 13:37
- Jason Strudwick 11:58
According to Desjardins, Staios, Souray and Gilbert all faced the toughest competition among Oilers defensemen one year ago. The difference came in quality of D partner, with the veterans getting little support and Gilbert getting the best available. Visnovsky was playing against middling opposition in LA and Strudwuck was a depth guy.
Gilbert stands out in this group because of a wide range of skills. Gilbert belongs in the family of puck movers but can also be effective without the puck. He’s an intelligent player who seems perfectly suited to the current NHL style, with his trademark play being a stealth skate in from the blueline to the crease for a tap-in. Guy’s a beauty. His projections are lower than last year based on reduced PP time.
Prediction for 08-09: 82gp, 7-15-22 (.268 per game).