By Rob Ficiur
Calgary Flames fans are more excited than they have been in a decade. They have a rookie who they know / hope / believe can be an all-star in the NHL. Expectations are high on left winger Johnny (Mr. Hockey) Gaudreau. With one NHL game under his belt can the five foot seven inch player be the superstar fans expect?
Last year in forty games Mr. Hockey scored 80 points for Boston College. For the second year in a row he was nominated for the Hobey Baker award, for the best player in US college hockey. In 2014 Johnny Hockey won the Hobey Baker Award and the next day he signed with the Calgary Flames. Will he be a superstar or another failed prospect?
Looking back at the last thirty Hobey Baker Award winners might give us an idea of how well these elite college players have fit into the NHL. In the 30 years from 1981 to 2010 the Hobey Baker award winners have played an average of 338 NHL games. (I have not calculated the numbers for the Hobey Baker award winners since 2011. Three of the four have played NHL games, but they have not had enough time to prove if they are long term NHL players.)
1. No NHL career – Five Hobey Baker winners played zero NHL games. Looking back at the 2008 NHL entry draft, there are four of the top thirty picks who have also not played an NHL game. Transitioning to the NHL from another level of hockey is difficult. Johnny Hockey already played one game last year so we know he won’t be in this category.
2. Brief NHL stop – Seven Hobey Baker winners played less than 100 games. One hundred games represents just over a season of fully time NHL experience, or two seasons playing on and off. Teams tried to give these players a good look, but for varying reasons, their talent didn’t fit the NHL. One of these was a goalie who played 68 NHL games over five years. He was good enough to be a back-up, but never a starter.
3. Brief NHL career – Six Hobey Baker Winners played between 100-399 games. This represents two to five NHL seasons. To play this many NHL games they had to have talent. Still they were not stars like they had been at college. Two of these players Kevin Porter and Matt Gilroy (2008 and 2009 Hobey Baker winners) have played 206 and 225 games respectively. Since they both played in the NHL last year their numbers could still go up.
4. Solid NHL Careers – Seven Hobey Baker winners played between 400-699 NHL games. This group includes solid two way players such as Tom Kurvers and former Flame Jordan Leopold. Vancouver’s new goalie Ryan Miller is one of only three goalies to win the Hobey Baker. His 559 games is already a solid career and the Canucks hope there is more to come. Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Carle has missed only two games in the last five seasons. The Lightning are counting on the 2009 top college player to be around much longer than his current 601 games.
5. NHL Stars – Five Hobey Baker winners have played more than 700 games and in their own way became NHL stars. Three of these players Chris Drury, Brendan Morrison and Tony HrKac were solid first and second line players in their careers.
Paul Kariya was one of the fastest players in the NHL. His 993 game NHL career was cut short by concussions. Experts thought Kariya was too small to play in the NHL; but he did – so too Flames fans hope will Johnny Hockey.
Neal Broten won the first Hobey Baker award in 1982 and went on to play a Hobey Baker record 1099 NHL games. At age 35, on the down side of his career, Broten had four game winning goals and nineteen points (in twenty games) as the New Jersey Devils won the 1995 Stanley Cup.
What fate awaits a Hobey Baker winner like Johnny Hockey? So far in pre-season Johnny Hockey has shown he can think on the ice and score at the NHL pre-season level. Can he do this in regular season NHL games? If his put him in positions to succeed he can gain the confidence to become an NHL star. Mr. Gaudreau has to do his part and pay the price physically and mentally. Many young stars have come into the NHL and then forgot the work ethic and discipline that brought them as to the league. Nothing is a given – and he will have to work harder than he ever has to establish an NHL career.
So far it looks like Mr. Johnny Hockey Gaudreau has all that it takes to be an NHL star. Now let the games begin so Flames fans can see on ice the potential they have imagined in their new super star.