By Nick Nollenberger (@NickNollen)
This summer Antoine Bibeau was at a crossroads in his career. Just 23-years-old, the Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada native wasn’t offered a second contract from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization whom he’d been a part of for the last three years and the club that selected him in the 2013 NHL Draft.
The San Jose Sharks weren’t necessarily strapped at the most important position in the sport. Martin Jones is unanimously considered one of the best in the game and his backup Aaron Dell proved a season ago he belonged at the highest level. In the AHL, Troy Grosenick was coming off a breakout season that culminated in Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the leagues best netminder.
It is often thought organizations with goaltending depth are the most successful. The Sharks certainly wanted to build up the most vital position. “The organization set out a few years ago to get some depth at the goaltending position, and it started out with Johan Hedberg and Evgeni Nabokov coming aboard,” said Barracuda General Manager Joe Will. “The the acquisition of Jones, and then Grosenick and Dell coming up through the minor-league ranks, and now the addition of Bibeau, we feel really good about where we are at.”
Sure, Bibeau looked at the Sharks and Barracuda’s depth, but it didn’t sway his decision to join the organization.
“I looked at the guys here, but at the end of the day, I wanted to go to an organization that wanted me, that I knew I could have fun and perform well. It was the best case scenario to get the offer from the Sharks.”
This offseason, the Sharks re-signed Grosenick for two more years, but there was still fear Grosenick could be claimed on waivers in September. In a perfect world, Grosenick clears and you’ve got a pair of goalies with the Barracuda, but it was essential for San Jose to add another goaltender to add depth and Bibeau’s age, physical attributes, and track record made him an intriguing addition.
“We saw that at his young age he had already accomplished a lot. He’s played a lot of games, he’s competitive, and he’s won at the AHL level,” said Will. “Jimmy Bonneau (Sharks Scout) who knows him well did a character check on him, and we found out he had what it takes.”
On January 4, Bibeau was given his first AHL All-Star nod only reassuring his decision to join San Jose was the perfect direction for his career.
“The way last year ended, not getting resigned in Toronto, I was excited to sign in San Jose, and I wanted to show them they made the right decision and Toronto made the wrong one.”
Before signing with San Jose, Bibeau had 102 games in the AHL under his belt and a pair of games in the NHL a season ago. For Nabokov, San Jose’s goaltending development coach, Bibeau didn’t need to make any major chances to his game but instead regain his confidence and find the consistency he desired.
“Confidence was a huge thing for him when he first got here so once he got a few good games, you could see his confidence went up,” said Nabokov. “When he first got here, we sat down and had a talk, and my goal was to make him feel comfortable out here. I think that’s the key for any player and I wanted him to settle into his new environment. He has the tools and the technique, so I didn’t change him one bit, but I just tried to tweak a few things where I saw fit.”
Nabokov continued, “At 23-year-old this just the beginning of something good, hopefully he can continue to grow and continue to work on his game, I think he can become a really good goalie.”