It was roughly a year ago that we all toyed with the idea of Johnny Gaudreau departing Boston College after just his sophomore year under Jerry York.
It was about six months ago that we debated whether he would jettison away to Calgary after his junior year or play out the rest of his time at BC.
It’s now June 8, and here we are killing ourselves over not seeing the all-too-obvious writing on the wall. We should have known there was no way Gaudreau was staying for his senior year. None whatsoever.
In fact, we didn’t need to look all that far to find the perfect parallel for what Gaudreau will hope to achieve in the NHL as he departs Chestnut Hill for Alberta, Canada. It was only two years ago that Gaudreau and Chris Kreider shared the same ice for the Eagles before Kreider started a trend that Gaudreau hopes to emulate.
There were high hopes for Chris Kreider when he signed with the New York Rangers straight out of his junior year of college. It was immediately after BC captured the 2012 Frozen Four National Championship over Ferris State that Kreider inked a deal with the Rangers.
New York was hoping to tap into the potential of a player who had just amassed 45 points over the course of 44 games in the 2012 Hockey East season. Through 18 playoff games, Kreider put up 5-2-7 totals for the Rangers before they were eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.
At the time, many wondered if Kreider’s early success was due to his relative anonymity, including his own coach.
“I don’t even know the kid. ... I had no idea [how good he is],” John Tortorella (the then-Rangers head coach) said. “I’ve probably only spoke to him three or four times since he’s been here.”
Similarly, Ottawa, Washington, and New Jersey – New York’s opponents in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs – seemed surprised and unprepared to handle the BC product. Kreider’s combination of speed, size, and finesse was too much for the Rangers’ playoff foes.
But it all proved for naught.
Tortorella’s scrict, almost oppressively defensive scheme stifled Kreider’s creativity and relegated him to third line duty. It was not until late in the New Jersey series that Tortorella promoted him to the first line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, but it was too late for the Blueshirts as they lost that series four games to two.
After an underwhelming 2012-2013 campaign that saw the entire team give up on the lame duck that was Tortorella, Kreider bounced back in a big way under new coach Alain Vigneault. Given free reign and a more offense-friendly team agenda, Kreider has made the most of his opportunity in 2014.
Through 66 games, Kreider posted 17-20-37 numbers while playing mostly on the first line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. He’s gone on to add four goals and seven assists – good for 11 points – in 12 playoff games thus far this year.
This brings us back to Johnny Gaudreau, who is poised to forego his senior year and likely break camp with the Calgary Flames come the start of the 2014-2015 season. While his skill and ability is unquestioned, it still remains to be seen whether he can cut it at the NHL level. Using Kreider as a template, I think we can attempt to map out Gaudreau’s trajectory.
Nothing could have been more Gaudreau-esque than when Johnny scored the only goal for the Flames in a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks back in April. It was the only game he and fellow BC alum Bill Arnold suited up for that season, but it provided a glimpse into the sort of impact Gaudreau may have on this fledgling Flames team.
As it stands, Gaudreau is one of only eight forwards that Calgary has under contract for the start of the 2014-2015 season who would be likely to play for the big club. While the remaining four spots will likely be filled by RFA’s like Joe Colborne, T.J. Galiardi, and Paul Byron, this team is very young and inexperienced. The average age of the forwards signed for next year is just over 26.
Combine that with the skeleton of a defensive corps that drops off a cliff after Mark Giordano on the depth chart and you’ve got yourself another ad campaign explaining to the Calgary fan base why it’s important to draft well and develop the youth.
(Note: I personally believe Calgary has too many offensive defensemen – case in point being that they consider Ladislav Smid to be their shutdown D-man. Yikes.)
A closer look, however, brings some optimism to the table for Gaudreau and the Flames.
The knock against Calgary is that they’re young, but that very same “flaw” may prove to be their strength in two to three years. Allowing the offensive core of Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, Sven Baertschi, Matt Stajan, Markus Granlund, Mikael Backlund, Corban Knight, and now Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold to grown and learn together could provide the type of future chemistry being seen out west by the likes of Los Angeles, Colorado, and St. Louis. All three look to be perennial playoff locks, and all three have strong cores that have grown up together.
Sure, there are no clear stars among the bunch. Monahan is probably the closest thing, having scored 22 goals at the ripe age of 19. But building a strong core is more important right now, as Calgary searches to find its niche in the post-Jarome Iginla era.
This is where Gaudreau comes in.
While Calgary has plenty of 6-footers that can crash the net and grind out shifts in the corner, they are short on shifty, puck-hunting forwards like Gaudreau. With unrestricted free agent Mike Cammelleri’s days likely numbered, that need has become even more glaring.
Coming off a Hobey Baker Award-winning season in which he tied Paul Kariya’s NCAA record for consecutive games with a point (31), Gaudreau is bringing an even more impressive stat sheet to Calgary than Kreider brought to New York.
Gaudreau was second to Kreider in team scoring his freshman year in 2012, notching 44 points. The following year he chipped in 51 points before exploding this past season for 80 points.
While the situation will not be the same for Gaudreau in Calgary as it was for Kreider in New York, the opportunities parallel one another.
Kreider has filled a massive niche and stabilized the lines for New York with his steady play and finishing capability. He’s been put on a line with a world class talent in Rick Nash and has been able to work with future first ballot Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis.
Likewise, I see Gaudreau following a similar course with the Flames. He’ll likely lock down the revolving door that was Calgary’s third line last year while also improve their anemic powerplay, which ranked 24th in the league. Gaudreau’s keen sense of timing, active hands, and pure playmaking capability will thrust him into a more prominent role as the season goes along. Unlike Kreider when he first joined New York under Tortorella, Gaudreau's offensive upside will be free to shine with the Flames.
Johnny Gaudreau may not see a deep playoff run of the likes that Chris Kreider is currently fighting in anytime soon, but he did pick an awfully good time to jump ship and join a Calgary Flames organization that needs and will use his skill set immediately.