— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) January 27, 2015
Early mentions of Johnny Gaudreau from trusted online sources were promising but read like a distant bell: Kirk Luedeke’s initial thumbnail sketch told of an undersized wizard who was years away and needed at least one growth spurt. From humble beginnings, Johnny Gaudreau never stopped exceeding expectations.
Kirk Luedeke, August 2010: John Gaudreau, RW– He’s not quite the agitating presence Hohmann
is, but Gaudreau is cut from a similar cloth: big man trapped in a
small man’s body who is explosive and can really score. Like Hohmann,
he’s headed to Boston for his NCAA play, but Gaudreau will be at
Northeastern instead of Commonwealth Ave. His dad was a star for Norwich
in the late-70’s and the younger Gaudreau will be challenged more this
season as he leaves the comfort of home for the rough-and-tumble USHL. Source
Gaudreau would play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL in 2010-11, leading the team in scoring and finishing Top Five in league points. Also on the team: Zemgus Girgensons who is another of the NHL’s most unique young players.
Having followed NHL drafts for 40 years, the idea of an undersized forward from the eastern seaboard turning heads wasn’t new. Bobby Sheehan had a remarkable amateur career and was a highly touted junior player with skill (and speed). That was 1969 and there have been dozens of undersized skill centers since. VERY few play in the NHL and even fewer enjoy any kind of sustained success.
As the 2011 draft approached, specific information came available on Gaudreau and it looked like he might get drafted.
SLEEPERS FOR THE 2011 DRAFT
Kirk Luedeke, March 2011: John Gaudreau, LW Dubuque (USHL)-
Tiny New Yorker is another longshot, but has put up amazing numbers for
the Fighting Saints despite being about 5-6 and 145 pounds. He’ll get
much stronger and add another 30+ pounds, but when you consider that
he’s managed to score 35 goals and 69 points in 55 games as a flyweight
in the rough-and-tumble USHL, it says a great deal about his speed,
hands and creativity. This is a pure offensive presence and he showed
off his potential at the Ivan Hlinka last August, as one of the most
consistent forwards on Team USA, helping them to a silver medal. It’s
hard to imagine an NHL team drafting a guy with Gaudreau’s vitals, but
this kid has guts and flair– he’s going to be a very good NCAA player
and once he gets there and proves himself at that level, anything is
Insightful (as always) commentary from Luedeke but realistic, too. Gaudreau would be drafted by the Calgary Flames, fourth round, No. 104 overall. There appears to be plenty of talent in that round (Gaudreau is one of four players to have been taken in Round 4 and played in an NHL game) but any re-draft of 2011 would have Gaudreau inside the top 10 on merit if done today.
That’s a draft win. There are all kinds of draft stories available on Gaudreau now, but I like to go back to the year of the selection to find out what people are talking about. No glad handing, in fact quite the opposite: Defending a selection that was under fire:
- Jay Feaster on the selection:“Size obviously wasn’t a factor. Marty St. Louis is not a very big guy, but his heart’s bigger than most buildings.We’re looking for guys that can play hockey, not guys that can dunk a basketball.” Source
The thing about a quote like that is you can appreciate it now because of the events that have taken place over time. Johnny Gaudreau isn’t a Brian Burke victory or a Brad Treliving win, it’s a Tod Button, Jay Feaster story and it is detailed here.
SINCE THE DRAFT
Johnny Gaudreau dominated college hockey in a way few have been able to over the years. Using Rob Vollman’s NHL equivalencies, we can see the growth of the youngster during his time with Boston College:
- 2011-12 44gp, 21-23-44 (NHLE: 82gp, 13-14-27)
- 2012-13 35gp, 21-30-51 (NHLE: 82gp, 15-24-39)
- 2013-14 40gp, 36-44-80 (NHLE: 82gp, 24-30-54)
Based on current stats, Gaudreau is on pace to finish 81gp, 26-38-64 in his rookie NHL season. His rise from distant bell to legit college star to the Hobey suggested a quality prospect. His performance for Calgary in 2014-15 suggests something else again.
Can Johnny Gaudreau sustain this pace? Is it possible for him to improve on his current level of play? I’d caution about drawing too many conclusions either way but there are some things history teaches us:
- Gaudreau is doing this at age 21. That suggests he probably has another gear in terms of potential. Some NCAA players arrive in the NHL at 23 or 24 but Gaudreau has some time before he’s a finished product.
- We don’t have an established level of ability with this player. You’d like to have three seasons beyond a specific threshold before defining a player. Marrying Gaudreau’s NHLE’s to his rookie season suggest the player is still heading north. That may or may not be true.
- Even if he doesn’t improve at all from his current levels, Gaudreau would be an outstanding young player.
- Injury. This is the number one item we have to remember as fans. Injuries can derail a career quickly. That said, Gaudreau has been playing against men for several years now without piling up a long list of maladies.
I don’t think it’s possible to state with any degree of authority that we have Johnny Gaudreau surrounded as a player. In my experience observing young players enter the NHL, the fewer comparables available, the more unique the player, the greater chance of an impact player emerging.
Johnny Gaudreau is a very impactful rookie in the NHL. We wait.