REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS: JOHNNY GAUDREAU

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.

COMPARABLES

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
Gaudreau 5’7” 150 2 67.24     21    
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. 

EXPECTATIONS

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
two ways:

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
ppg totals.

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.

  • smith

    Tough to compare size with any of those mentioned as teams never list proper heights and weights. If Cammalleri and Briere are 5’9″ and Kane is 5’11”, I’m 6’10”. I’ve stood next to many NHLers and always chuckle when I read there stats and see them in person. In the end, Gaudreau is small – likely 5’5″ or 5’6″ and maybe 150 lbs. It is what it is and he’s a very talented hockey player but very few players like Fleury can make it. Fleury wasn’t afraid of heavy traffic and played at a time when big defencemen put the hook or hold on little guys and weren’t called. Fleury knew his stick was his best self defence tool and used it well beyond scoring goals. Gaudreau isn’t that type of player and will be challenged to make it in a big man’s game. Not saying he can’t but it’s not going to be easy.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      As you indicate, totally different styles. Totally different frames. Theo was only 160 lbs, but he was built like a brick sh*t house. Cammi described Gaudreau best, he’s “slimy.” Hopefully he worked on Olympic-style pure strength this summer, because bulking 20 lbs is not what’s going to help him. The case has more than been made that Gaudreau is too good for minor pro. The only question really left is, can he hack it in the NHL? Only one way to find out.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I don’t have any “reasonable” expectations for a 5’6″ player with the kind of skills he displays.

    A lot of it depends on if he is put on a line with protection or a line with skill + some grit. Put him on a line with Backs and The Gooch and spartks could fly – like Calder sparks.

    Hartley could put him in a position to succeed (or exceed) by sheltering him at home and giving him primo PP time. But he is sneaky enough to be able to strip the puck on the backcheck.

    The only thing holding Johnny back is when and how he is played. If he gets 14 minutes a game plus PP time and reasonable quality linemates, you might see something approaching his NHLE of 67. Crazy numbers. Otherwise probably somewhere around 40.

  • piscera.infada

    One of the things that always surprises me when I’m watching Gaudreau videos (and I have watched more than my fair share) is just how good he is on the backcheck.

    He’s always talking about improving his defensive game, getting in hard on the backcheck – which is what you want in a potential star player.

    Look at him in this video from the WC – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJylM7vC5o8#t=13

    Gaudreau will break up plays and pick pockets like a Victorian street urchin in a Charles Dickens book.

    Sure he’s not going to lay out some monstrous open-ice. He’ll do one better – swoop in like a magpie and steal the damn puck before that 6’4″ lead-footed plug even has time to register what happened.

    Then he’s screaming down the ice at the goalie or making some stupidly-beautiful pass to someone up-ice.

    Then we’ve got a shot on goal.

    And shots on goal lead to goals.

    And goals lead to winning games.

    I have no idea how many points Gaudreau will put up. I think 40 points (12-28) in a full 82-game rookie season would be pretty great.

    People would probably think that’s a huge disappointment, but I’d be perfectly happy – especially considering the potential quality of Gaudreau’s linemates.

    On usage, I hope we see Gaudreau with possession monsters like Backlund, Gio and Brodie as well as shooters like Hudler and Setoguchi. Glencross too if he can play the off-wing.

    Size be damned, put Gaudreau and Backs on the same line together. Backs has that possession secret sauce down pat – but everyone complains about his scoring.

    Gaudreau did well possession-wise in the first game (and boy, did he ever look seen-him-good in Vancouver) but it’s impossible to even begin to know what his possession stats will look like in the NHL until we see at least 40 games out of him.

    Still: Gaudreau has this ridiculous ability to get his teammates the puck down low so they can tap the pass into a yawning cage (more WC footage! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJylM7vC5o8#t=283).

    This kind of ridiculous playmaking could help Backlund start really lighting the lamp.

    Imagine a 1PP of Brodie, Gio, Backlund, Gaudreau and Colborne on the wing. Colborne’s job? Be tall, stand in front of goalie, whack the ever-living-hell out of any rebound.

    Colborne would be the Flames’ version of Ryan Smyth. ‘Tis an ignoble calling, but someone has to do it.

    Hell, if you’re feeling frisky, replace Colborne with Setoguchi or Glencross.

    If Seto can shoot the lights out on the PP – or at least regress back to something approximating his career shooting percentage – then we’ve got a cheap contract earning 30-40 points perfect for cap-crunched teams needing to shed salary at the trade deadline while keeping some scoring. Glencross? Same deal.

    Anyway, if Gaudreau isn’t playing a ton of minutes in Calgary, send him down to the AHL. I have zero idea IF Gaudreau will ever play a lick in the AHL – I doubt it – but it’s not the end of the world.

    Of course, I’m biased – I moved to Toronto from out west and am planning to watch all the Baby Flames-Marlies games when they play in Toronto (at least) and would love to see Gaudreau play.

    Nothing could be sweeter than rising up and cheering in my Flames jersey when Gaudreau lasers some beauty shot past the Marlies keeper.

    Well, unless he dangles the ever-living hell out of Tyler Biggs.

  • Byron Bader

    This post is optimistic to the point of delusion. Talented kid, but at 150lbs he would get rolled every time he touched the puck in the NHL. Him and Raymond on the same line lol heads up boys!