When it was announced a team of players 23 and under would be included in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the initial concern was, who will play in goal?
While there were plenty of rising stars at forward and on defence, there really wasn't one individual who had thrust himself into the spotlight as a rising star between the pipes.
It was even suggested Team North America be allowed to choose one veteran stopper over the age of 23 to help even the playing field. That idea did not fly.
Then after Matt Murray took over from injured Marc-Andre Fleury and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup, the concern seemed to dissipate. And at the end of the day, goaltending was no concern whatsoever for Team North America. John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks was a very capable backup and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets was the team's third goalie, though he didn't play in the tournament.
Goaltending, it turns out, was not an issue for Team North America. Murray opened with a 4-1 win against Finland and then, after allowing four goals on eight shots in the second period of what turned out to be a 4-3 loss against Russia, gave way to Gibson, who finished Game 2 and then was in goal for a 4-3 overtime win against Sweden.
As we chronicle the players that made up Team North America during the 2016-17 NHL season, we will on occasion update the exploits of the team's three goaltenders.
Of the three, only Gibson is firmly entrenched as his team's No. 1 goalie. The 23-year-old Pittsburgh native's strong play last season allowed the Ducks to let Frederik Andersen walk as a free agent. In 15 games, Gibson is 6-6-3 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .908 save percentage with one shutout.
The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Gibson is backed up by former Toronto Maple Leafs starter Jonathan Bernier. There have been a few bumps along the road this season as Gibson tries to find the consistency that enabled him to steal the crease from Andersen last season.
Murray a future No. 1
The 22-year-old Murray has played well for the Penguins, but has only started a handful of after having recovered from a broken hand suffered in the World Cup. The 6-foot-4, 178-pound Thunder Bay, Ont., native has an impressive 5-1-0 record with a 1.68 GAA and .945 save percentage and one shutout.
Murray was knocked out of a game after being clipped in the head accidentally by teammate Evgeni Malkin, in keeping with NHL protocol, but he returned to the crease for the team's next game. He continues to compete with Fleury for the starter's role with the defending Stanley Cup champions, and to many who have seen him play this season, the feeling is Murray will eventually win the position.
Hellebuyck, 23, seems to be winning the battle to emerge as the Jets top goaltender. Having played in 14 games, compared to nine for fellow Jets stopper Michael Hutchinson, Hellebuyck is 7-6-0 with a 2.62 GAA and .911 SP with one shutout. At 6-foot-4 and 207 pounds, Hellebuyck has lost his past two games after putting together a four-game win streak.
At least one goalie coach from another organization, who asked for anonymity, is not the least bit surprised these young stoppers are making their mark in the NHL already.
"If you had to design a goalie today and talk about the new, modern prototypical guy, it is going to be a large man with mobility and with the calmness of Carey Price," the goalie coach said. "The goalie development chart is changing because they are coming in way more prepared. They are way better technically prepared for the NHL. It is becoming a young man's game."