When the Flames announced John Gaudreau’s name at the entry draft in Minnesota, it was the first time I’d ever heard of him. I had to look his stats at hockeydb to make sure he was a real hockey player. There I discovered he put up fine numbers, but was the size of most 10th-graders at 5’6" and 140 pounds.
Since then I’ve done some digging and what I’ve discovered about the tiny winger has intrigued me. Despite his diminutive size, the New Jersey native scored 36 goals and 72 points in just 60 games for the USHL’s Dubuque Fight Saints. Only one other player managed more than 60 points on the club (Vinny Saponari) and it was his 20-year old season. Scott Reynolds recently look at NHL equivalency numbers (meaning, translating a players PPG pace in his respective league to the NHL equivalent) and Gueadreau placed 28th overall. To put that in perspective, Joel Armia placed 27th, Rocco Grimaldi placed 32nd, Tomas Jurco, Brandon Saad…even further down the list.
Gaudreau’s season was so good last year he was named the USHL’s rookie of the year, an award voted on by coaches and managers in that league:
"I join all the League’s General Managers in congratulating John on one of the best rookie years we’ve seen in the USHL in quite a while," said USHL Commissioner Skip Prince. "He was a great player on one of the USHL’s strongest teams. He may not be the biggest player on the ice – but as he’s heard and will continue to hear throughout his career, no one plays a bigger game."
Another arrow pointing in the right direction for Gaudreau is hia age: an August, 1993 birthday means he was one of the younger draft eligible players available. He won’t even turn 18 until next month. This means Gaudreau was putting up numbers despite both his size and his age. It also means he’ll have a bit more time to fill out and bulk up before he reaches the pro game.
It’s not just the numbers that are complimentary to Gaudreau however. First hand accounts and scouting reports trickling in from the Flames recent development camp have all included rave reviews of his skill level.
“Anybody you’ve talked to about him, the bigger the game, the tougher the game, the better he played,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “That’s a very intriguing sign. They say he’s got great bite to his game. You don’t measure the heart of a player by how big he is.”
Caught myself watching him most of the sessions. So incredibly small. Seriously his jersey must be 2 sizes to big and he looks like a boy amoung men. Damn though he has all world skill. Real good shot and just great with the puck. Had a little trouble with the power skating(especially going backwards), but still has pretty good speed. Head is always up too. Him and Wahl just put on an absolute clinic on one of the 2 on 2 drills. If he can get some size and strength I definetly think he could be a player. Time is on his side too with him going to college so he can really develop and hopefully become a steal. Definitely the guy I came away today most impressed with.
FlamesNation’s own Pat Steinberg attended some of the sessions and will no doubt be sharing his own thoughts on the player. I’d be surprised if his observations don’t echo what we’ve already heard, however.
As a smaller player during my hockey playing days, I have a more personal reason beyond my Flames fanship to root for Gaudreau to make it. I also find it heartening the Flames would make this sort of selection – not only since it signals a real change in their direction in terms of drafting, but because this is exactly the sort of gamble teams should make in the middle rounds of the draft: high skill players who have fallen through cracks for one reason or the other. Gaudreau’s never going to be the biggest guy on his team, but if he can add three inches and 30 pounds, the Flames might just have a 4th round steal on their hands.