RALEIGH — With all the high-profile trades and signings the Carolina Hurricanes made this offseason, it was easy to overlook another addition.
While Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel, Jake Gardiner, James Reimer and Joel Edmundson were making headlines in coming to Raleigh, 31-year-old forward Brian Gibbons signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Hurricanes in early July, adding experience to an otherwise young pool of depth players.
The Braintree, Massachusetts, native has been overlooked plenty in his career, starting with going undrafted out of Boston College where he had 164 points in 160 games playing with touted Eagles like Chris Kreider, Cam Atkinson, Jimmy Hayes and Nathan Gerbe.
His debut with the Hurricanes on Tuesday in Los Angeles is already the 11th stop in his nine-year professional career, including his sixth NHL team. The Hurricanes’ three-game West Coast swing includes a visit to Anaheim, where he played for the Ducks most of last season before being dealt to Ottawa.
“That doesn’t really matter,” Gibbons said of playing a former team. “It’s my sixth team now, so there’s a couple former teams and you get used to it. It’s just another game.”
Gibbons had just five points in 44 games with the Ducks last season, averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time a night.
His opportunity to prove he could do more came when one of his current teammates was traded.
Dzingel was shipped out of Ottawa at the trade deadline to join the Blue Jackets for their playoff push, and two days later the Ducks traded Gibbons to the Senators in exchange for journeyman defenseman Patrick Sieloff.
Gibbons took advantage of the hole created by Dzingel, totaling 14 points in 20 games — including six goals — with the rebuilding Sens while playing third-line minutes. As a free agent this summer, he thought Carolina’s style would fit his game, plus he remembered an interaction he had back when he was coming out of college.
“I’ve seen them play and, actually, I think I talked to Rod (Brind’Amour) when I graduated school — he might have been player development here or something — and I was a free agent,” Gibbons said. “So I talked with him maybe nine years ago, and you can tell what kind of person he was and things like that. So it was an easy decision.”
Brind’Amour said Gibbons had “a great training camp,” but former first-round pick Julien Gauthier was the first player recalled when Jordan Martinook was forced out of the lineup with an injury. After two games, the 6-foot-4 son of a bodybuilder was sent back to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers and Gibbons — all 5-foot-8, 175 pounds of him — was brought up in his place.
Gibbons — despite his being smaller —plays with the desperation of a guy who has earned everything he’s gotten in hockey.
“He doesn’t take a minute off when he’s out there,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s obviously undersized — he’s had to battle that his whole career, so I like those kind of guys.”
Gibbons is what coaches like to call an honest player — he doesn’t cheat the game or cut corners to be successful — like center Greg McKegg was for Brind’Amour last season. And there’s a mutual admiration between him and his new coach for that reason.
“He’s obviously a pretty honest guy and fair guy,” Gibbons said. “And I think if you do your job, you’ll get rewarded — and that’s the way it should be.”
As for his size, Gibbons said the evolution of hockey has presented him with opportunities that perhaps weren’t always there.
“You don’t really have a choice in things like that,” Gibbons said. “You just control what you can control. The game’s obviously changed the last few years, and it definitely helps smaller guys. You just try to take advantage of that.”
And Brind’Amour saw what Gibbons can do when given the chance, like his success in Ottawa the end of last year.
“That’s why I like this player,” Brind’Amour said. “It was a great pickup for us this summer. Obviously, a proven guy that knows how to play in this league and someone that you can count on.”
Gibbons, with his second team already this season and fifth in three years, knows what that entails.
“Play the right way, play the system,” he said. “I think it fits my game well, so just kind of keep things simple, play hard, play fast and just try to fit in.”
He doesn’t know any other way.