As you probably know by now I am acutely familiar with the work of Calgary’s two prospects on the Boston College Eagles, Johnny Gaudreau and Billy Arnold. Both are very good college hockey forwards on the best team in the country, which just happens to be the best program of the last decade, and is run by the greatest coach in college hockey history, Jerry York.
Last Friday, I ventured down to Providence College, home to another pair of Calgary’s NCAA-based recruits, (forward Mark Jankowski and goaltender Jon Gillies) in hopes of seeing what I thought was going to be an historic event.
You see, York sits on the precipice of history: At 924 wins, he is currently tied for the most all-time in Division 1 college hockey history, and he had the chance to pull ahead to 925 in this game. It should be said that BC has lost two games all season and is vastly superior to Providence in pretty much every facet for a lot of reasons. But this being the first meeting between the two teams this year — they’ll play twice more in early March — I figured it was also a good chance to get a look at what I’ve said before are perhaps Calgary’s four most intriguing prospects outside the pro ranks (obviously Sven Baertschi takes that title in a runaway).
Best Laid Plans…
However, as things turned out, I didn’t get either of the things I wanted from this game. BC didn’t win, the result of a poorly-played game in which Providence outshot them 37-29 and still needed an extra attacker to tie it with 10.5 seconds to go in regulation, then hung on for the draw. And, as far as you as Flames fans are probably concerned, only three of Calgary’s prospects were in the lineup; Jankowski sat out the game with a bum hip. So that’s a first-round pick I didn’t get to see in person, nor did Craig Conroy, whom I saw on my way into the building.
But with the possible exception of Arnold, who was unspectacular but solid as ever in this particular game — he pretty much does everything well for the Eagles and in point of fact probably isn’t on the first line if only as a means of spreading out the scoring a little bit more (6-7-13 in 14 games played) — I received plenty to talk about from the three Flames picks who actually got into the game.
Let’s start with the guy I’d never seen live before: Jon Gillies. Simply put, this kid is very, very good for a 18-year-old playing behind a defense that isn’t very staunch. Obviously he will go to the U.S.’s national junior evaluation camp and almost certainly make the team itself, but if not for him, Providence would have lost by at least three, without exaggeration. In fact, he more or less saved the game on an acrobatic sweep of the puck off the line from a typically-gorgeous tic-tac-toe BC passing play that left Arnold of all people alone in front of the net.
The ref initially ruled it a goal, but video review overturned that. The reason for this, Providence coach Nate Leaman explained after the game, is that Gillies was understandably turned around by the puck darting back and forth uncontested through the defensive zone and, in the midst of all his flailing, just so happened to clear the puck off the line. He’s alarmingly athletic and seems capable of making a number of high-quality saves every night, but when you combine that with the fact that he’s 6-foot-5 at his age, well, he’s gonna pull rabbits like that out of his hat every once in a while.
He gave up three goals on the night, and on just 29 shots. That much is true, but things could have been a lot worse, and frankly, none of those he allowed were especially his fault. The first is likely the only one he’d actually want back; it came off a set play from the faceoff where the BC center won the draw, generated a shot, and Gaudreau crashed the net. Gillies made the initial save but the puck bounced up into the air and went in off Gaudreau’s chest. The other two — an absolute snipe from the top of the circle and an astonishingly skillful goal from his knees, both of which were scored by freshman and Florida first-rounder Mike Matheson — weren’t getting stopped by any goaltender on the planet.
I’m not especially great at evaluating goaltenders (I once got into a debate with an LA Kings scout about whether Jon Quick would make a servicable NHL netminder, when he was still in college but before they took him in the first round), and obviously even if I was I’d need more than a single game to properly judge the kid’s quality, but my initial impression is that he could be very good, and I don’t know how long I expect him to stay in Providence. Another season after this one maybe? Wouldn’t think it would be much longer than that.
As for Gaudreau, well, the kid is magic. What else is there to say? As mentioned, he scored the game’s first goal, and also picked up the primary assist on Matheson’s first (though again, the goal was all in the shot, and Gaudreau just happened to be the one to get him the puck), but he could have had three, four, five points in this one no problem.
The thing about Gaudreau’s game is that for all its explosiveness, and its "I have no idea how he thought to do that"-ness, it’s still pretty subtle. Little moves when he’s in trouble to free himself up some space, or the way he seems to have eyes in the back of his head, make it very difficult to understand how he sees what he sees, let alone has the skill to do with the puck what he does. If this kid had been six or seven inches taller than 5-foot-4 in his draft year, Calgary would have been lucky to get him with the 13th pick, let alone the 104th. He made a couple passes that should have resulted in tap-in goals had his linemates been in any way prepared to receive them. One in particular that came in the second period, a kind of whirling pass across the top of the crease from the bottom of the right circle, stands out as being particularly spectacular (due to my having forgotten my pen and pad back in Boston, I didn’t take notes, so this is all from memory).
There are still holes in his game, as there would be with any undersized 19-year-old, and Providence definitely got to him a bit with their physicality at times. Not enough to prevent him from racking up points, but despite the goal and assist, he wasn’t, say, the dominant presence that he can be. Again, this is one game, obviously, but the fact that he was on the ice for all three Providence goals and doesn’t get much in the way of PK time tells you a lot about how much he can yet be trusted defensively. York will drill that into him, as he does with nearly every player on his team. Keep in mind, Chris Kreider killed penalties in college.
I was a bit disappointed by the fact that I didn’t get to see Jankowski, since he’s mostly — and understandably — the guy about whom many readers had questions. I’m going to get out to more Providence games in the relatively near future but the Friars are off for the next few weeks thanks to finals and winter break. We’ll see how all that goes. If you have any other questions about the guys who did play, let me know in the comments.