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Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder/USA Today Sports

Glenn Gawdin has plenty to prove in the final four games

Glenn Gawdin has reached a pivotal point in his development.

The 24-year-old centre has returned to the Calgary Flames for his second stint of the season after finishing up an uneven third year with the Stockton Heat.

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Gawdin played his first five NHL games with the Flames in February but played in an extremely limited role under soon-to-be-fired head coach Geoff Ward.

Glenn Gawdin’s ice time in his six NHL games

Feb. 20, 2021 @ Edmonton 6:04
Feb. 22, 2021 @ Toronto 2:16
Feb. 24, 2021 @ Toronto 4:11
Feb. 25, 2021 @ Ottawa 10:47
Feb. 27, 2021 @ Ottawa 5:10
May 9, 2021 vs. Ottawa 11:13

He returned to the Heat in time for the team’s 4-1 win over the Belleville Senators on Mar. 3, the third instalment of their eight-game winning streak between Feb. 24 and Mar. 11.

Despite Stockton’s early success, Gawdin struggled to produce after joining the team and scored just one goal in his first 12 games. He spent much the season playing in the middle-six, a big change from being Stockton’s number-one centre for much of the 2019–20 campaign.

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Entering the season, Gawdin looked to be a candidate to lock down a spot in Calgary’s bottom-six. He led the 2019–20 Heat with 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 53 games as a 22-year-old.

With Gawdin on the ice at even strength, the 2019–20 Heat outscored their opponents 39–31. Prospect statistics website Pick224 estimated Gawdin finished fifth on the team with 2.36 primary points-per-60 minutes (ranking behind only Ryan Lomberg, Matthew Phillips, Austin Czarnik, and Alan Quine).

In 2020–21, Gawdin’s results deteriorated across the board. His even strength on-icegoals-for percentage decreased to exactly 50%, with the Heat tying their opponents 17–17 during Gawdin’s shifts. He registered 1.06 primary points-per-60, placing 10th among Stockton players.

(A note of caution about drawing conclusions from this: Gawdin scored four goals and 13 points in just 22 games, which is a very finicky and small sample. The players ranking ahead of him on the 2020–21 Heat also played fewer games than usual because of the shortened AHL season.)

Gawdin turned 24 on Mar. 25 and is set to become a restricted free agent on July 28. He is eligible to be selected by the Seattle Kraken in this summer’s expansion draft and will not have the ability to file for arbitration if the Flames tender him a qualifying offer.

With his qualifying offer set at just $750,000 and his right-handedness differentiating him from Calgary’s other depth options, it’s likely Gawdin is retained by the Flames this off-season. Seattle picking Gawdin from Calgary over the numerous other options available would be unexpected, to say the least.

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Barring any side deals, one of Mark Giordano and Chris Tanev will be exposed. Oliver Kylington and Matthew Phillips should both be available, as will Spokane product Derek Ryan. All five of those players would probably make more obvious expansion choices than Gawdin.

That’s not to say Gawdin wouldn’t be useful in Seattle’s system. He remains a player with upside who could easily carve himself a spot in Calgary’s lineup, both this year and next.

Gawdin stands 6’1″ and plays with a mean streak lingering just below his poised surface. He demonstrated the physical aspect to his game on Sunday when he demolished Senators defenseman Artem Zub with a big hit late in the third period.

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As a Western Hockey League over-ager with the Swift Current Broncos in the 2017–18 season, Gawdin recorded 56 goals and 125 points in 67 games. He also racked up 101 penalty minutes.

Calgary’s system is stacked with highly-skilled but undersized wingers. Martin Pospisil is the closest prospect Calgary has to a legitimate power forward.

Gawdin is already a solid two-way centre with decent offensive skills. If he can lean into the physical side of his game, he could do a great deal to separate himself from the Flames’ large pack of NHL-AHL inbetweeners.

He could also endear himself even more to the Flames’ new head coach, Darryl Sutter, whose most successful teams in Los Angeles and Calgary boasted effective bottom-six contingents which could drive puck possession while dominating opponents on a physical level.

Gawdin could also stand to shoot the puck more. He took 116 shots in just 53 games last season, good for a rate of 2.19 shots-per-game. This season, that figure decreased to 1.77 shots-per-game as Gawdin took 39 in 22 contests.

At the NHL level, Gawdin has taken just one shot in six games. That shot came just prior to his first NHL assist, which came on a long-range bullet by Michael Stone.

One of Gawdin’s hallmarks as a Bronco was his lethal shot. He used it 270 times as a 20-year-old WHLer—the 13th-most in the league in 2017–18, one spot behind Matthew Phillips—and it, combined with his relative maturity, enabled him to become a 50-goal scorer.

Gawdin is no longer in a position where he can match or surpass his counterparts by being older and more physically developed. He can, however, become more confident at the NHL level and start using his tools to help the Flames more consistently if he’s given more reps and a longer rope.

Remember, Gawdin barely played in his first go-round with Calgary. His situation was vaguely similar to that of a young Andrew Mangiapane, who first joined the Flames in the 2017–18 for 10 games. He averaged just 8:56 a night and took a grand total of just seven shots.

At the end of his Mangiapane’s NHL stint, he had zero points to his credit and a Goals Above Replacement figure of -1.1 (according to Evolving-Hockey).

Mangiapane returned to Calgary the following December and quickly emerged as an high-level play-driver. Even so, his tangible offense still failed to materialize until he scored his first NHL goal in a five-shot effort at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena on Feb. 9, 2019. From there, he scored at a top-six rate.

Gawdin will likely never reach Mangiapane’s heights but his early struggles at the NHL level might not be indicative of the player he’ll become with more experience. At this point, his future is largely in his hands.

The Flames have opted to give Gawdin another look in the final games of the season. This is his chance to erase any memories of his stagnant AHL season and establish himself in the Flames’ plans for next season.

If he can’t turn things around, he could soon be looking for a new home.