September 01 2014 08:30AM
Finally, Johnny Gaudreau is set to turn pro. The tiny winger (5’7’’ and 150 pounds) is the Flames’ smallest prospect, but also by far and away their most skilled. Everything Gaudreau has done so far suggests he’s an elite player in very elite company (see here and here). He’s proven everything he’s needed to at the junior and college level. His options are the NHL or the AHL. Where does he end up and what can we expect?
Gaudreau, drafted in the 4th round in 2011, joins the Flames organizations after three amazing years with Boston College. The New Jersey native recorded 175 points (78 goals and 97 assists) over the course of 119 games during his collegiate career.
This past season was Johnny’s best. Gaudreau led the entire NCAA in points (80), goals (36) and assists (44). His point total was the highest in a single season in over a decade. Gaudreau topped off the year by winning the Hobey Baker award for the NCAA’s best hockey player as well as every other hockey-related award that he was eligible for. He also put up a point streak of 31 games which tied a Hockey East single season record (Paul Kariya – 1992-93). After his team was eliminated from the frozen four, Gaudreau opted to turn pro rather than play his senior year at Boston College.
If Gaudreau makes the NHL and becomes an elite offensive impact player, he will be the smallest impact player of at least the past 30 or so years. Theo Fleury is the only comparable, height-wise, but outweighed Gaudreau by a good 30 pounds. This is the only thing that makes everybody a little nervous about Gaudreau but the odds aren't completely stacked against him.
If we consider some earlier FN research regarding size and drafting, shorter players don't have a worse success rate than taller players. There's just so very few short players that are ever drafted and given a chance to succeed. When we focus directly on the shorter players that have made the jump to the NHL, there appears to be enough evidence to suggest that, despite his size, Gaudreau stands a very reasonable shot to become an impact player in this league, especially in today's NHL.
|Player||H||W||LY Pre-Pro PPG||LY Pre-Pro NHLE||D+Ys||AHL||1Y NHL Age||1Y NHL PPG||Team Scoring|
|LaFontaine||5'10''||180||3.34||79.49||0||No||19||0.81 (54 in 67)||6|
|Zuccarello||5'7''||174||1.16||74.43||n/a||Yes||22||0.54 (23 in 42)||14|
|Loob||5'9''||178||1.14||72.84||2||No||23||0.79 (55 in 70)||4|
|Bure||5'10''||192||1.04||70.29||2||No||20||0.92 (60 in 65)||3|
|Ronning||5'8''||170||2.81||69.23||2||No||22||0.60 (25 in 42)||3|
|B. Hull||5'10''||200||2||67.24||3||Yes||23||0.98 (64 in 65)||7*|
|Mullen||5'10''||182||2||67.24||n/a||Yes||24||1.31 (59 in 45)||7|
|Kariya||5'11''||180||2||67.24||1||No||20||0.83 (39 in 47)||1|
|Sejna||5'9''||197||1.95||65.64||n/a||Yes||n/a||0.18 (4 in 22)|
|Gilmour||5'11''||180||2.6||64.03||1||No||20||0.66 (53 in 80)||6|
|R. Whitney||5'10''||180||2.56||63.21||2||Yes||22||0.66 (40 in 61)||8|
|P. Kane||5'11''||181||2.5||61.5||0||No||19||0.88 (72 in 82)||1|
|Sakic||5'11''||185||2.5||61.5||0||No||19||0.89 (62 in 70)||5|
|Recchi||5'10''||185||2.48||61.1||1||Yes||21||0.91 (67 in 74)||6|
|Fleury||5'6''||180||2.46||60.55||2||Yes||21||0.83 (66 in 80)||8|
|St. Louis||5'8''||176||1.66||56.03||n/a||Yes||24||0.32 (18 in 56)||12|
|Gerbe||5'6''||178||1.58||53.17||5||Yes||23||0.48 (31 in 64)||9|
|Briere||5'9''||181||2.2||52.39||2||Yes||21||0.34 (22 in 64)||10|
|Cammalleri||5'9''||190||1.53||51.44||5||Yes||23||0.69 (55 in 80)||4|
|Drury||5'10''||195||1.5||50.43||4||No||22||0.56 (44 in 79)||6|
|M. Savard||5'10''||196||2.03||49.97||4||Yes||21||0.64 (45 in 70)||6|
|B. Little||5'11''||185||1.88||46.18||1||Yes||20||0.33 (16 in 48)||10|
|Giroux||5'11''||172||1.92||45.83||3||Yes||21||0.64 (27 in 42)||9|
|Atkinson||5'7''||173||1.33||44.69||5||Yes||24||0.50 (40 in 79)||4|
|Sullivan||5'9''||165||1.79||44.12||2||Yes||22||0.79(38 in 48)||3*|
|York||5'10''||182||1.29||43.23||2||Yes*||21||0.61 (50 in 82)||3|
|Verbeek||5'9''||190||1.75||43.15||1||No||19||0.59 (47 in 79)||3|
|B. Gionta||5'7''||173||1.26||42.22||4||Yes||23||0.43 (25 in 58)||9|
|Desharnais||5'7''||170||1.77||42.1||n/a||Yes||23||0.51 (22 in 43)||13|
|Yzerman||5'11''||185||1.63||40||0||No||18||1.09 (87 in 80)||1|
|D. Roy||5'9''||184||1.59||39.11||3||Yes||20||0.39 (19 in 49)||13|
|Byron||5'7''||153||1.54||36.78||6||Yes||25||0.44 (21 in 47)||12|
|Arcobello||5'9''||165||1.05||35.6||n/a||Yes||25||0.44 (18 in 41)||11|
|Gallagher||5'8''||174||1.42||35.08||2||Yes||20||0.63 (28 in 44)||6|
|Ennis||5'9''||169||1.39||34.28||2||Yes||20||0.60 (49 in 82)||4|
|Samsonov||5'8''||188||0.88||31.63||0||Yes||19||0.58 (47 in 81)||4|
|Marchand||5'9''||183||1.24||29.4||4||Yes||22||0.53 (41 in 77)||7|
|Average||1.79||53.34||2.33||66%||21.51||0.65 (53 in 82)||6.74|
|Margin of Error||0.57||13.79||1.69||1.85||0.24||3.70|
H: Height; W: Weight; LY Pre-Pro PPG: final year of junior, college or European elite league ppg (anything prior to AHL or NHL); LY Pre-Pro NHLE: final year of junior, college or European Elite League NHLE; D+Ys: Pre-NHL years played after being drafted; AHL: Did the player play in the AHL early on in their careers; 1Y NHL Age: Age of player when they first played at least a half season in the NHL (41 games or more); 1Y PPG: 1st year NHL PPG; and Team Scoring: Where the player finished in overall team scoring. The asterisk associated with a few team scoring numbers indicates the player was traded mid-season. Their team scoring position is derived from assuming they stayed with their original team and kept up the same scoring clip. The list is sorted by the player’s NHLE the year before turning pro.
This list includes every short player of the past 30 years I could think of that had a pre-pro pedigree even remotely close to Gaudreau’s. The list includes short players (5’10’’ or less) as well as forwards who stand 5’11’’ but weigh less than 190 pounds. We end up with a list of 37 players.
The players' NHLE in their last pre-pro season range from 30-79 (ballpark pre-pro scoring rate for the majority of the NHL's elite point producers). The players on the list generally took 2.3 years to reach the NHL after being drafted. The average age of the player’s 1st significant NHL year (41 games or more) was 21.5. The average scoring pace for diminutive skilled players in their first real NHL season is 0.65 ppg (53 in 82). If we include only players that are still currently playing (i.e., modern-day short players) the average scoring rate comes out to 0.53 ppg (43 in 82).
Gaudreau’s pre-pro scoring sits in the top 3rd of all the players on the list even despite the majority of the players being drafted in the 80’s or early 90’s. Gaudreau, P. Kane, Zuccarrelo and Peter Sejna are the only modern day players to put up an NHLe north of 60 in their final pre-pro year.
By my count, the NHL currently has at least 11 impact forwards that stand at 5’9’’ or less, including Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais, Mats Zuccarello, Brad Marchand, Marty St. Louis, Mike Cammalleri, Derek Roy, Cam Atkinson, Brian Gionta and Danny Briere. This equates to roughly a short player for every second team in the league (some teams have more than one and some teams have none). If you include the 5’10’’ players, the slender 5’11’’ players like Giroux and Pat Kane, smaller defensemen (e.g., Enstrom, Krug) and less impactful smaller players like Paul Byron, Cory Connacher and Steve Gionta, then nearly every team has at least one smaller player.
The majority of the aforementioned short players do not get hit that often, score at an decent rate and play an integral role for their respective teams. In fact, there’s a larger assortment of shorter impact players playing today than there has been over the past 3 or 4 decades. In Gaudreau’s case, there’s certainly room for one more.
Nearly every player under 5’9’’ got their feet wet in the AHL (90%). The odds would suggest that Gaudreau starts in the AHL as well but I just don’t see it. As Beloch mentioned throughout the year, if we consider NHL equivalencies with the NCAA and AHL, the skill is not that different (0.41 for the NCAA and 0.44 for the AHL). Gaudreau doesn’t need to prove anything in the AHL that he hasn’t already in college.
Furthermore, the Flames left side (excluding Gaudreau) next year includes: Curtis Glencross, Mason Raymond, Lance Bouma and a mix of Sven Baertschi, Max Reinhart, Paul Byron and a Face Puncher. Given that list, it’s easy to suggest Gaudreau is the most offensively skilled left winger, if not player, the team has and I think this will become completely evident come training camp. In my eyes, Gaudreau will play his way on to the team because of how much better he is than the rest of the Flames hopefuls.
Regardless, I see Gaudreau’s first pro season going one of
1) he’s sent down to the AHL to start the year, scores at a rate around a point
per game or more and is one of the first call-ups in November or December. In Fleury fashion, he contributes with the
Flames right away and never goes back down.
2) he stays with the Flames from the start and becomes an impact player almost immediately.
If Gaudreau stays up from the start, I see him scoring at a clip that is at least similar to his diminutive skilled peers (approximately 0.5 ppg; 40 points in 82 games). If Gaudreau is scoring at a rate of approximately 0.5 ppg in the first half of the year, he may very well go on to register over 50 points and be in the conversation for the Calder. The reason is not just Gaudreau’s immense skill but also the situation he finds himself in.
Last year’s Flames’ leading scorer, Jiri Hudler, had 54 points. The Flames have added nobody in the off-season that is likely to usurp this scoring total, even if one expects significant improvements from the likes of Backlund and Monahan. Therefore, Hudler’s 50 or so points will be the high water mark that Gaudreau is chasing.
If Gaudreau is scoring at that rate of 0.5 ppg early on, I believe he will be given the lion’s share of the offensive opportunities in the latter half (e.g., ice-time, o-zone starts, PP time, quality-ish linemates). This snowball effect could result in Gaudreau shining in a big way.
Patrick Kane, Paul Kariya, Mike Cammalleri and Steve Yzerman
are all examples of diminutive players that were afforded the opportunity to
shine in their rookie season because of their circumstances. All four had incredible talent but were also
drafted by low-calibre teams which helped them tremendously. Ice-times
for Kariya and Yzerman are unavailable for their first few seasons in the
league, however, Kane and Cammalleri played the most (TOI) of the modern day
diminutive players in their rookie years and also recorded some of the highest
I wouldn’t doubt that Yzerman and Kariya garnered similar ice-time. All four ended up being top-scorers for their respective teams in their first years. Kane, Yzerman and Kariya in fact led their teams in scoring in their rookie seasons. Gaudreau may very well join this very small elite group.
If Gaudreau has a debut season like Sean Monahan (roughly 20 goals and 15 assists), the fan-base would be thrilled, as would I. On the other hand, given Gaudreau’s very elite skill set and opportunity, I feel as though he will eclipse Monahan’s first year numbers, perhaps significantly. Maybe I'm out to lunch but, to me, 50+ points (20-25 goals and 30-35 assists) in his rookie campaign is a very real possibility for Johnny Gaudreau.