The Flames seem to have a good thing going with the WHL. In the past two drafts, they have selected one of the most consistent scorers in Matthew Phillips, one of the strongest all around players in Dillon Dube, and a burgeoning star defenceman in Juuso Valimaki. They’ve wisely used their picks on players in their own backyard and have reaped some handsome rewards.
But perhaps one of their smarter moves was free. Glenn Gawdin finished second in WHL scoring (four points behind the leader, but with five fewer games played), taking a major leap forward from some anonymous WHL seasons. The unprecedented good season from the pivot shines favourably upon the Flames’ scouting staff, who invited him to development and training camp. The Flames identified a diamond in the rough and are now looking forward to the future.
So what do the Flames have in Gawdin?
Gawdin was the fifth overall pick in the bantam draft, touted for his two-way ability. He had a steady yet unspectacular year in his first full season with the Broncos, picking up 22 points in a bottom six role. He improved to 54 points in 72 games, turning some heads (including on this website), and wound up a St. Louis Blue in the fourth round of the draft.
His next two seasons didn’t go as well. Although injuries played a part in his success, his production didn’t exactly jump off the page, especially as an older player. Prorated for a full 72 games, Gawdin put up 72 and 81 points in his d+1 and d+2 years, which aren’t inspiring figures. Sure, it’s not awful, but probably not something you want to see from a prospect. WHL players with those numbers are usually a dime a dozen, and rarely ever turn out.
An unconvincing career combined with a strange mix of circumstances lead the Blues to leave Gawdin unsigned. As the Blues would have to split their AHL team with the Vegas Golden Knights, there wasn’t enough space to give Gawdin a spot. He had been a solid prospect, but not crucial enough to the long term health of the team, so they let him re-enter the draft where he went unclaimed.
— SC Broncos (@SCBroncos) October 8, 2017
Officially a hockey wanderer again, Gawdin found an invite to the Flames development camp and stood out relative to the rest of the invites. That doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it did earn him an invite back to training camp in September. Again, he impressed, but he didn’t get a contract right then and there, likely for the same reasons the Blues cut him loose. The Flames cut him relatively early and sent him back to the WHL.
There, Gawdin finally started opening eyes. As the centre on a line with Tyler Steenbergen and Aleksi Heponiemi, Gawdin started racking up point totals, forming the CHL’s best line. The Flames signed him on Nov. 16, before anyone else could get the idea, when he had a mere 40 points. He then went on to score 85 more, falling just short of the WHL scoring title. A late season flu prevented him from playing in the last few games, which only goes to show that disease is the only way to slow Gawdin down.
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No doubt about it: Gawdin was great, and consistently so. There’s a slight dip somewhere around January, which I attribute to the Broncos acquiring Matteo Gennaro, Beck Malenstyn, and Giorgio Estephan. As the Broncos loaded up for a Memorial Cup run, Gawdin’s ice time was cut an estimated three-four 5v5 minutes (21-22 minutes to 17-18). He still finished second on the team in estimated TOI behind Heponiemi, but the Broncos acquiring depth did hurt his ice time and point production just a smidge.
Now here’s the criticism: A heavy percentage of his points also came from powerplay time, which is almost always a red flag, particularly for older players (coaches trust them more in CHL, ergo more special teams time). He finished second in that category among the whole WHL, again behind Heponiemi. He did produce on special teams, but when the production is very similar to 5v5 production, you get worried a bit.
But you can’t deny that Gawdin was pretty much the one running the show. You could find his name on the stat line for 51.47% of all Swift Current goals, and on 39.56% of all 5v5 goals. When we only look at primary points, those numbers remain strong at 38.29% and 30.33% of all goals. He was really in a league of his own.
But we must remember that his linemates also have a huge impact on his numbers, which can’t be discounted. It’s very promising that Gawdin finished above both of them in points (albeit with both Heponiemi and Steenbergen missing 10 and 11 games, respectively) and that he generated 93 primary points versus 32 secondary points, but playing with two dynamite, high scoring players is sure to affect your numbers. Steenbergen was coming off of a 50-goal season and Heponiemi’s rookie year saw him put up more points than Gawdin ever had.
Perhaps it is a small sample, but in the 10 games Steenbergen and Heponiemi missed for the world Juniors, Gawdin only put up 13 points, a 1.3 PPG rate (very close to the 1.13 PPG rate he scored in his d+2 year, and generally the increase you would expect from a d+3 player). Compare that to the 112 in 57 (1.96 PPG), and it’s a bit of a cause for concern. Gawdin also had three zero-point games during that 10-game stretch, which is half as many as he had all year. I’m willing to bet that the sample is too small to be anything other than a blip on the radar (I recall him also being scratched for maintenance around this time, so could be that), but it’s something worth noting.
It’s rare to find players who, even above age 20, scored at the torrid pace Gawdin did. Only five players matched Gawdin’s production in 21 seasons of WHL data, and only 70 matched his 5v5 production. For comparison, I usually find anywhere between 65-150 matches (depending on the player, of course) for AS production, and 120-200 for 5v5 production. What Gawdin did is rare.
When comparing his production this season to the production of 20-year-olds in years past, 20% of them went on to the NHL (so one in five) and scored at around a .6 PPG rate during their careers. When comparing 5v5 production, that number drops to 11.59% and PPG rate drops to 0.42. However, when you search for players who matched Gawdin at both AS and 5v5, that number jumps to 50% and .6 PPG again, mostly because there were only two matches.
The one match would be Mike Comrie, a guy who had a very similar year to Gawdin in many regards. Comrie was able to play on a line with future Oilers teammate and then 100-point scorer Jarrett Stoll in Kootenay. They were both older players with stellar linemates who scored wild numbers. It’s rare, but it has happened before.
— SC Broncos (@SCBroncos) January 21, 2018
Where the Comrie-Gawdin comparison falls short is when you consider that Comrie had been an established name in the NCAA before defecting to the WHL to finish out his junior career. Comrie lead his Michigan Wolverines in scoring twice, which you really can’t say for Gawdin.
When you look at comparables on a year by year basis, it’s not really that impressive. Comparables from his draft year to his d+2 year generally became hits anywhere between 13-17% of the time, and generally fell between .2 to .35 PPG. Not bad numbers, per se.
Of successful NHLers, he compared favourably to Jordin Tootoo (seven of eight possible matches), Colton Sceviour (five of 10), Brian Sutherby (five of eight) and Viktor Rask (four of four, although fewer seasons played likely means the comparison isn’t as strong, as demonstrated with Comrie above). So if he pans out, he’s likely to be somewhere in the bottom six. If he’s a productive fourth liner, that’s a pretty decent find for the Flames.
Gawdin is such a rarity that it’s kind of tough to definitively say what he’s going to become at the NHL level. Until this season, he was a cookie-cutter, unexciting WHL prospect. After this season, he could feasibly start in the NHL next year. But he could also flame out almost immediately (don’t consider this outlandish: Leafs prospect Adam Brooks put up over 120 points in back-to-back WHL seasons and has 16 AHL points this year). He is such a unicorn that it’s tough to make a confident assertion. Is he a late bloomer just getting started, or an overager blessed by some of the most fortuitous circumstances an overager can have?
I would be very cautious approaching Gawdin, as setting high expectations will inevitably lead to disappointment. He’s going to start next season in the AHL, and likely in the top six. From there, we assess. The Flames don’t have that much centre depth outside of the NHL (Dube, Phillips, Adam Ruzicka are all natural centres, but Phillips played nearly exclusively on the wing this season, and Dube projects to be an NHL winger), so Gawdin will get his reps in there. I can’t see him entering the NHL as a centre next year. Perhaps on the right wing, but there’s still a few ahead of him competing for that spot.
After that? It’s anyone’s guess. I might say that he has a quietly productive, .5-.75 PPG year in the AHL. If he doesn’t, well there’s still a year on his contract and there’s space to grow. One thing is for certain, though: you really can’t complain given the price.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 29, 2018