I was lucky enough to be in Minnesota in the summer of 2011, covering the NHL entry draft for the Nations. I was with now-retired contributor Robert Cleave somewhere deep in the Xcel Center concourse when Johnny Gaudreau was drafted by the Calgary Flames. We were looking for a power outlet to recharge our laptops and figured the important work had been done by the team already anyways.
Man were we wrong.
When his name was announced, I had to look it up just to make sure I was spelling it right. I had never heard of the kid before. If I wasn’t being paid to write about the weekend, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to look too closely, but I eventually ended up on Gaudreau’s HockeyDB page.
I was surprised to find out the newest Flame was drafted out of the relatively obscure USHL in the States. And, what’s more, he was tiny, his profile reading 5’6″ and 137 pounds.
In fact, it turns out Gaudreau is the smallest player to ever be drafted by the same organization that chose Theoren Fleury in the ninth round so long ago. His being taken at all was so apparently unlikely that Gaudreau didn’t even bother to attend the draft. Many players who will never skate a game in the NHL were in the building that day, but Gaudreau was home with his parents – even though he led his team in scoring by 12 points as a 17-year-old.
Johnny’s odd mix of small stature and big counting stats marked him as a player of interest for FlamesNation. And so we got to follow along from afar as Gaudreau’s status as a prospect grew ever larger, season after college season, even though he remained physically diminutive.
By the time he left Boston College, Gaudreau had put together one of the greatest amateur resumes of perhaps any Flames prospect: Hobey Baker Award winner, BeanPot MVP, First Team All-Star, Barry Flynn Trophy winner, World Junior Championship gold medal winner, etc. His final season in Boston saw him score 80 points in 40 games, the best numbers in Hockey East and arguably one of the most impressive NCAA seasons of the last 20 years.
Despite his various achievements, there was still some lingering doubt that Gaudreau would be able to translate his scoring touch to the NHL level. More than a few outstanding amateurs have stumbled at the first hurdle when it comes to putting up numbers at the highest level. After all – Gaudreau was still very small and the NHL is bigger, meaner and faster than college hockey. It’s one thing to dance around 20-year-old hopefuls, quite another to do it against Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith.
Gaudreau has since shown that such doubts were misplaced. After a Calder-worthy rookie season, the 22-year-old put together one of the best sophomore efforts by a Flames youngster in the organization’s history. He scored at a near point-per-game pace and finished sixth in the NHL scoring race. He led the team in scoring by 15 points despite being one of its youngest skaters. He became the club’s most potent offensive weapon and one of the league’s most electrifying stars.
So just how good is Johnny Gaudreau? Here’s some numbers to put his first two NHL seasons into greater context:
The many dizzying feats of Johnny Hockey
– Since 2014-15, Gaudreau is 12th overall in scoring (142 points), sandwiched between Joe Thornton (147 points) and Claude Giroux (140 points). Steven Stamkos has played the same number of games over that period and scored six fewer points than Gaudreau.
– Amongst skaters 23 or younger over the last two seasons, Gaudreau is the leading scorer by 11 points. Second to him is former fourth overall pick Ryan Johansen, who has played three more games.
– Gaudreau’s rookie and sophomore seasons combined total of 142 points is tied for sixth best in the NHL since 2003. The five players in front of him? Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Paul Stastny. The player he is tied with at sixth is Patrick Kane. Guys like Jonathan Toews and John Tavares lag him by 20 points.
– Gaudreau now boasts the best PPG pace of anyone drafted in 2011.
– It took Jarome Iginla five seasons to break the 30-goal and 70-point barrier. Gaudreau did it in two.
– Gaudreau is the one of only three Flames player to crack 70 points in the last five seasons (Iginla – 2010-11, 86 points and Jiri Hudler 2014-15, 76 points) .
– The more recent Flames player to score more than 70 in his rookie or sophomore season was Sergei Makarov in 1990. The last guy under the age of 23 to do it was Joe Nieuwendyk in 1988.
– Gaudreau has more points than all of the Flames’ other 2011 draft picks. And 2010 draft picks. And 2009 draft picks. Combined.
And, oh yeah, he’s a human highlight reel.
Make no mistake Flames fans – we’re witnessing the start of what will likely be one of the greatest Flames careers of all time.
Whatever else you take away from this season, remember its significance in that we got to see Gaudreau start to write his chapter in this franchise’s history books.