Johnny Gaudreau spent time after Thursday's session at Calgary Flames development camp signing team merchandise for fans. The question is, when will the 19-year-old forward put his name on a professional contract?
Gaudreau, the Flames' fourth-round pick (No. 104) in the 2011 NHL Draft, has committed to spending a third season at Boston College. Nicknamed "Johnny Hockey," he was named Hockey East Player of the Year, a First-Team All-American and a Hobey Baker finalist last season after scoring 21 goals and finishing with 51 points despite a midseason break during which he scored seven goals to lead the United States to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship.
Gaudreau is an offensive dynamo, but he's also 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, and a big part of his decision to return to college was the need to add size and strength. But if he decides to play a fourth season at BC, he could opt to become a free agent in the summer of 2015 and sign with any NHL team. Despite his size, Gaudreau would figure to draw plenty of interest.
"I know that's what the fans worry about," Flames general manager Jay Feaster told the Calgary Sun. "I'm not concerned that he's going to college as a ruse for 'I don't want to be play in Calgary.' That's not the case."
Gaudreau said he's not interested in anything more than completing his education and becoming a better player. He had to pay his own way to development camp -- his third since being drafted -- in order to preserve his NCAA eligibility.
"I'm strictly just going back to school just to improve my game and not to wait out the years just to try to sign with someone else," Gaudreau told the Sun. "I'm just really focused on my education and trying to get better on the ice and off the ice.
"I really enjoy it here, and hopefully I get the chance to play here someday."
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth year in a row, the Flames would like "someday" to be "someday soon."
"We've had enough conversations with Johnny and with his family and with his family adviser that I'm not concerned about [him refusing to sign]," Feaster said. "The big thing is that I think we're getting to the point with Johnny where, clearly, it's fine to go back there now and play a year with his brother, but from our perspective, and we'll talk to him about it here, we'd like to see him here.
"Clearly, we'd like to get him here sooner than later."