One of the most interesting aspects of putting together a list like the Top 25 Under 25 is learning who just missed out on the list. Generally, the further down the list you go, there is massive variance between individual voters lists, as some voters may be more familiar with certain prospects versus others, or have preferences for certain traits.
With the panel expanding to fourteen voters this time around, the variance was much more pronounced, and as a result several individuals came very close to making the list, typically ranking quite comfortably in the Top 25 for some lists but not even being ranked on others.
In the build-up to the countdown beginning next week, a few individuals will share their thoughts on a few prospects that just missed the list, but for each of whom the particular prospect rated highly on their particular list. So while the consensus has spoken and these players were not chosen for our Top 25, consider this a second opinion.
Trying to place goaltenders appropriately on this list is always a bit of an exercise in futility. There's very little in the way of true progression to try and make sense of, and success one year is in no way a guarantee of success the following year. And unless you have an extensive scouting background to be able to identify and analyze the goaltending mechanics, it's all subjective eye-test nonsense. Goalies are voodoo.
So when it comes to trying to assess the performance of goalies, all I can really hang my vote in is performance relative to their peers and year-over-year improvement (that would indicate some sort of development is taking place). And so when it came time to factor the Leafs' three minor league goalies into my rankings, the combination of this improvement and youth put Antoine Bibeau at the top of my list. Unfortunately, though, it would appear not enough of my fellow voters agreed.
Bibeau jumped onto Leaf fans radars in the spring of 2014, after leading his junior club the Val d'Or Foreurs to a Memorial Cup berth, largely on the back of offensive powerhouse Anthony Mantha and Bibeau's goaltending. Upon turning pro, he joined a three-man battle to secure playing time with the Toronto Marlies.
I'll fully admit I expected Bibeau to be the odd man out and begin learning his craft at the professional level in the ECHL. After all, the Leafs possessed two other talented young goalies that had AHL experience, and Garret Sparks had been staking a claim to the Marlies starting job. 20-year old goaltenders need playing time to develop, and it's not uncommon to see new junior graduates spend time in the ECHL (Leaf goalie James Reimer did just that following his junior career).
Bibeau ended up forming a tandem with Christopher Gibson that saw the pair provide stable enough goaltending that the Marlies were able to stage a late comeback to qualify for the playoffs. The team's issues early in the season were simply the fact that the team couldn't score, and had less to do with issues in net.
Overall, Bibeau's statistics were perfectly adequate for a rookie pro. The .913 save percentage placed him 29th among qualifying goalies in the AHL, 11th among rookies. Also, he played the 38th most minutes in the league, a mark that was 7th among rookies. His play proved he belonged at the next level, and earned the trust of his coaches to be relied upon at the AHL level for a full season, something not many goalies can say.
What interested me was that simply very few goalies of his age did something like that. While 10 rookie goaltenders had a higher save percentage, only two were also 20 year olds (1994 born); Penguins prospect Matt Murray, and Rangers prospect Mackenzie Skapski. Murray was the only 20 year-old goalie to play more minutes than the Leaf netminder.
There's obviously no guarantees, here. Bibeau's a 6th round pick, drafted as a 19-year old, and as such there are significantly long odds facing him down the road. And it should be said that Garret Sparks put up similar AHL numbers the year before as a 20-year old (in fewer games).
Overall, I'm still not particularly enamoured with the depth of the Leafs prospect system, and outside of maybe five guys not in the NHL, I don't see an awful lot of promise here or are simply way too far away from being contributors. To add insult to injury a couple of guys suffered significant setbacks this season, putting their status in the organization on shakier footing. We're talking small degrees and being able to point to a guy and see positive growth at a young age is attractive when trying to come up with a Top 25.
The pool of voters is so large now that consensus at this stage of the countdown is incredibly difficult to come by. While my vote was by far the highest, only four voters in total put Bibeau in their Top 25, and as a result he dropped five places in our countdown, outside of the Top 25 in 28th place.
If Bibeau is able to hold onto a job at the Marlies level, and continue to progress at that level towards being a high-end AHL goaltender (because let's face it; the Andrew Hammond story was nice but you want your NHL goalie to be capable of a little better than .913 (or worse) in the AHL), then I think you'll see Bibeau climb back into the Top 25 next season.