JOHNNY GAUDREAU

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
    possible. Source

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.

gaudreau

THE FUTURE

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.

  • slapshot444

    I remember telling Kent that I was sure that Johnny would never make it in the NHL, just too small for our division. Boy was I wrong, and gladly so.
    You have see him on the ice live as opposed to TV to really appreciate his skating ability, AND his passing ability. Kudos to Button and Feaster.
    Clearly the NHL has become a skill / speed league VS a size only league and as fans we are much better off for it.

  • everton fc

    I think you’re right, Kent. He can score, he’s a natural playmaker, he plays defence, hustles, his special team play is excellent most evenings. He’s a gem. He could be the next Joe Mullen – another small superstar from Chestnut Hill.

    Feaster made some questionable moves, but if you size up a few, like Gaudreau, Hartley, Russell, even Byron, who’d have 15 goals if he could finish… Jooris was also on Feaster’s watch, as Feaster’s scouts found him… Poirier over Shinkaruk was another… Feaster did a lot for this franchise. I was critical of him, but now realize his vision. Here’s hoping the Dynamic Duo running the show now continue the positive trend.

      • everton fc

        As a Flames fan I can tolerate BT (or any GM) not getting things totally right with a 4th line winger and a 6/7 defenseman. If you are wrong your still left with toughness and not a team made up of 23 ‘softies’!

        What I don’t want to see is screw ups at the draft table…..and before WW responds Mason MacDonald is progressing quite well as an 18 year old.

  • slapshot444

    If he can sustain a number of years around 30G/70P per plus develop some sneaky Datsyukesque defensive prowess, Gaudreau will have exceeded most if not all expectations. He’s already halfway there. Anything more will be a delightful bonus.

    • beloch

      Gaudreau already has some pretty impressive possession numbers. He has been given very easy zone starts against middle-of-the-road competition, but only Hudler has a higher overall CF%. Gaudreau does a lot of things that really help the Flames hang onto the puck.

      • His zone entries are the best on the team. If he’s on the ice, the odds are high that he’ll be the one to carry the puck in. This is a much more reliable way to get possession in the offensive zone than dumping and chasing.
      • Gaudreau predicts where the puck is going to be very well. If there’s a puck battle on the boards, Gaudreau will frequently dart in and snag it from the scrum or simply be where the puck squirts out to. If a team-mate shoots the puck and Gaudreau isn’t in the slot, he’ll go to where the rebound is going to go and be ready to put the puck right back into play.
      • Gaudreau is tenacious on the back-check. He has racked up a lot of steals, frequently by simply blazing up behind a hard-skating forward and yanking the puck right off their stick.
      • Gaudreau’s hand-eye coordination is just sick. He might not have the biggest body for blocking shots, but he succeeds at knocking the puck out of the air with his stick far more often than most players do. He frequently breaks up his opponents’ break-out plays by tipping a saucer pass behind the intended target or outright knocking it to himself or a team-mate. It is not safe for opponents to pass the puck anywhere near him.

      Given that Gaudreau is the Flames’ second youngest player and is almost as young as Monahan, his possession driving ability is impressive. If he were given more defensive zone starts he’d probably do quite well. Still, it’s easy to see why Hartley tries to start him offensive zone as often as possible.

      As for the likelihood of Gaudreau being injured, I don’t see him being at a higher risk of injury than any other Flame. Quite the opposite in fact. Size is an advantage for injuring others but does not confer protection from injury. Big, physical players who play a crash & bang style are very likely to be injured themselves. Gaudreau plays an elusive, shifty style and seldom gives or receives big hits. I’d be willing to bet he’s in a lot better shape right now than Bouma is.

  • mk

    I have to admit, I was skeptical he would be an impact player – I thought he would Nathan Gerbe 2.0. Small, very skilled & fast, but without the size necessary to really finish plays. Or comparable to Paul Byron.

    In this case, I like being wrong. 😀 This man is magic.

  • mk

    Sam Bennett has played with both Connor McDavid, and Johnny Gaudreau..

    He said that Johnny can do more things with the puck than McDavid can. That’s a pretty big compliment.

      • everton fc

        Brilliant!

        Timmy could pop a few goals in his day. Loved him. Heart and soul of those teams in the 80’s. He’ll always be one of my faves.

        Heck, Nevin Markwart had better finish than Byron. He’s another of my all-time faves.

  • BurningSensation

    Gaudreau looks more and more like a grand slam home run of a pick for the 4th round.

    His basement is to be a useful player who can score ala Jiri Hudler. That’s it, that is the worst he will be.

    His ceiling is something akin to Pat Kane, a high scoring winger who controls possession, and makes zone entries look routine.

    He is also going to look awesome as Monahan’s wingman for years to come.

  • Derzie

    Despite last night’s loss, watching Gaudreau:

    – set up Hudler with a no look, behind-the-back, pass

    – dipsy-doodle from behind the net to the front for a dangerous scoring chance from a high-percentage area

    – use his magnificent edges and skill to toe drag the puck past a defender, causing the latter to fall, and snapping a terrific wrister

    – charge from one end to another whilst confusing the defenceman with a patented outside/inside deke

    …was a pleasure.

    • Derzie

      He made a pass last night from the corner to the slot that went tape to tape to Hudler through 2 or 3 bodies, legs and sticks. It as like a string between them. Magic.

  • Greg

    Getting steals late in the draft can really set a franchise up for decades of success. Detroit with Datsyuk et al, Colorado with Hejduk and Drury – supported with some high end first round talent, your then playing with house money for years which allows you to be patient to develop more prospects better, and be in on the best rentals and UFAs every year.

    Well, we’ve got quite a collection growing now with Gaudreau, Brodie, Gio, Ortio, all 4ths or later. Monohan and Bennet (presumably) add in the high end first round talent… Things are looking really good for the foreseeable future! (Although have to agree with the “dynamic duo” comments… BT seems to have caught on to the change in game style quickly so hopefully he doesn’t repeat his first GM off season and throw this off the rails).

  • Greg

    Also, with Gaudreau, I still notice some nervousness in his game… He’ll make a real skilled play, start to draw defenders to him, but then force a pass a little too quickly to try and get rid of the puck before his teammates are in a good position to take full advantage yet. As he gets more comfortable with the speed at this level, he’ll be able to slow things down and make even more amazing plays work out. You could see flashes of it in the game last night where he made real determined and confident drives without nervously passing off too soon, but just couldn’t quite break through 3 or 4 defenders himself… Yet.

    There’s definitely another gear there still and we’re in for a treat when he hits it!

  • everton fc

    Well put together article and welcome to Flamesnation Lowetide! JG has progressed well and is a very skilled player. It will be interesting to see how he holds up late this season and (fingers crossed) in the playoffs where physical intensity ratchets up and small skilled players have a bigger bullseye on their back.

  • Burnward

    Someone needs to pass this along to Byron. Best advice I ever got for being on a breakaway…

    “Don’t think too much or have a plan. Just put it where he isn’t.”

  • KiLLKiND

    Guys calm down on Byron we don’t need to trade him if he keeps creating these amazing scoring chances one day he will start to be able to finish this is only his 2nd season still. Also I agree Johnny has a really high potential with his amazing stick handling and ability to create space.

  • RKD

    Theo Fleury, Paul Kariya, Patrick Kane and now Johnny Gaudreau. JG is a talented player with elite hands. A lot of people have underestimated him but this guy is the real deal. Imagine what he will do in his prime.