From Alexander Radulov to Angelo Esposito to Mikhail Stefanovich, a signature of the Patrick Roy-led Quebec Remparts has been dynamic offensive forwards capable of dazzling fans with skill while hurting the opposition on the score sheet.
Acquired by Quebec in January of 2008 as part of the three-way deal that saw Brad Marchand head to the Halifax Mooseheads and Maxime Sauve land with the Val D’Or Foreuers, Gilbert joined the Remparts almost immediately to begin his QMJHL career.
He started slow in his first taste of major junior action, scoring seven goals and finishing with 14 points in 28 regular season matches with three of Gilbert’s goals coming with the man advantage. He added another goal over the course of 11 playoff games.
That first bit of exposure gave Gilbert plenty to work on as he entered into the summer and prepared for a full season of QMJHL action. As Quebec assistant coach Martin Laperriere explained, the main lesson entering into the off season was for Gilbert to simplify his game and get stronger on his skates.
"One thought we had out of last year was that it was easy to take the puck away from him and the second effort was not necessarily there, because coming up from midget, it used to be easy for him to keep the puck, or dangle through the guys."
Gilbert took this instruction to heart and entering the 2008-09 season, he soon established himself as a key piece of Quebec’s offensive attack, impressing even the coaching staff with his progress.
"Surprisingly for a young guy, he plays a pretty big role offensively," said Laperriere, "Early on, Patrick put him together with J.S. Allard and Mikhail Stefanovich and somehow there was a chemistry that developed through the guys and he was a pretty good feeder for the two guys, feeding J.S. and J.S. would feed Mikhail and that chemistry would help them get some points early on."
In the first 13 games of 2008-09, Gilbert had two goals and 12 points, but, lacking the consistency of a player with more time under his belt, his pace slowed considerably. As Laperriere explained, Gilbert continued to make an effort to help the team.
"At one point, the line did slow down, we were able to move David to the wing, which is a position he can also play pretty well because he’s got good size, so he can get the puck out off the wall."
Being able to play in traffic and protect the puck was a marked improvement for Gilbert over the previous season and Laperriere claims it allowed the Quebec native to contribute in ways other than what shows up on the score sheet.
"He’s becoming stronger on his feet, protecting the puck, turning his back and keeping a handle on the puck, so I think that’s where he’s improved the most."
Seeing regular time on the QMJHL‘s fifth-best power-play unit, Gilbert excelled at distributing the puck to Quebec’s main guns like Stefanovich and Dmitri Kugryshev, who tied one another for team lead in powerplay goals with 12 each.
As Laperriere explained, "[Gilbert]’s going to stand a bit on the outside and try to make plays or passes. He’s not the guy that’s going to stand in front, but he’s a playmaker on the outside."
With a number of returning players and much entrusted in young players like Gilbert, expectations were high for Quebec in 2008-09. The team finished fourth in the league with a record of 49-16-0-3. Missing just a single regular season game, Gilbert posted 11 goals and 43 points over the course of 67 games to place eighth on the team in scoring.
Such a strong season led to a long playoff run and the Remparts made it all the way to the league’s semi-finals before bowing out to the Shawinigan Cataractes in five games. In 17 playoff matches, Gilbert scored six goals and had eight points. This drop in production was perhaps a sign that he still has much to learn.
A talented playmaker that often plays as if the puck is on a string; Gilbert’s overall package is still raw, mainly due to his inexperience. Attributes like consistency, work ethic and overall strength are all expected to improve as he matures.
Meanwhile, Laperriere identified his ability to pick his spots, especially when in scoring position as being a key weakness that should sharpen as he becomes more comfortable.
"Young guys have a tendency to be slow on their release, they prefer to stop the puck and set it up. So if he can work on that, I think he’s going to get a lot more points. Because he knows where to go, along the side of the net and he has a knack to get open, so I think the finish and the strength of his shot also are things that he can work on."
Though the leap from midget to a top-line role in major junior in less than a year can be daunting, Laperriere claims that Gilbert kept grounded during the transition.
"He’s not a guy that really seems to be bothered by that. I think he’s the type of guy that shows up to play and once the game is over; he’s ready to move on. So I don’t think the pressures are getting to him, he’s never really showed nervousness. I think he brings the best he can for the games and goes from there."
This same attitude serves Gilbert well as he played through his draft year.
"I think he knows a lot of teams have met with him, tried to get to know him. He has opened some eyes and I think he knows that they are keeping an eye on him. He had a pretty good showing at the Prospects Game, he had a good game," noted Laperriere.