Antoine Bibeau has come out of nowhere to become the hottest new prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs system. The French-Canadian netminder showed his potential in this year’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs (QMJHL), leading the Val-d’Or Foreurs to a Presidents’ Cup Championship and a bid in the annual Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Memorial Cup tournament. There he showed his worth against top goalie prospects Tristan Jarry (PIT) and Anthony Stolarz (PHI), posting a .932 save percentage, which was tops in the tournament.
That Memorial Cup performance, and his QMJHL playoff performance where he played in 24 games, winning 16 and saving .913% of shots on net (he faced 797 in all, which was 200 more than the next goalie!), has put him on the Leafs’ radar and elevated him as their top goaltending prospect.
A sixth round pick in the 2013 entry draft, Bibeau wasn’t included in hockeyfutures.com Top 20 prospects for in their spring rankings for Toronto. He started the 2013-14 season in Charlottetown but was traded to Val-d’Or after giving up an atrocious 3.29 goals-against average (GAA). He improved only minimally in Val-d’Or but really stepped up for them in the playoffs.
The Memorial Cup is where people started taking notice. Although the Foreurs placed third out of the four qualifying teams, Bibeau led all goalies in save percentage and GAA. In a 2OT victory against the eventual Memorial Cup champion, Edmonton Oil Kings, the 20-year-old Victoriaville, Quebec native saved 47 shots against an Oil Kings team that featured top NHL prospects Curtis Lazar (OTT), Henrik Samuelson (PHX), and Mitch Moroz (EDM).
That game was the turning point for Bibeau. It lead to a Hap Emms Memorial Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding goaltender in the Memorial Cup, and a 3-year entry level contract from the Maple Leafs.
With his astronomical rise on the Leafs prospect ladder, and the uncertainty surrounding James Reimer’s future in Toronto, it almost seemed certain that the Leafs would give Bibeau a shot at backing up Jonathon Bernier. But the Leafs gave Reimer a 2-year contract, showing that the organization is going to wait on Bibeau and see how he progresses in the AHL.
All eyes will be on Bibeau in 2014-15 where he will be making his professional debut. He will use next season to prove that that 28-game span was not a fluke. Next season, he’ll have to adjust to professional life, and the speed and skill of the players in the AHL. He’s had experience facing a myriad of shots but those shots were of mostly low-quality and during a hot streak . Bibeau won’t have to stand on his head for 60 minutes like he did with Val-d’Or, but it’s comforting for the organization and Leafs fans to know that he possesses the ability to do so when it should occur.
The Calder Cup runner-up Marlies will get even better next year when Bibeau comes in and challenges Drew MacIntyre for a starting spot. There, he will get a long, hard look from Brendan Shanahan and the rest of the Leafs organization.
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