CALGARY, AB --
Let's be honest: when Johnny Gaudreau announced he would be entering Boston College's top-flight program last year, expectations were reasonably low.
After all, the Flames 2011 fourth round draft pick stands just 5-foot-8, weighs 150 lbs. and was a true freshman joining an Eagles squad with several established forwards vying for ice time. It looked like all odds were stacked against the diminutive winger when it came to earning a top-six spot in his first year in Boston.
And then he went and blew all expectations out of the water.
"I really liked Gaudreau a lot coming out of the championship season at Dubuque last season," Kirk Luedeke of the New England Hockey Journal told CalgaryFlames.com in an email. "But I did not anticipate the kind of impact season he would have as a freshman at Boston College.
"His progression over the last two years has been about as seamless as it gets."
Through 44 games last year, the Carneys Point, NJ native recorded 21 goals and 44 points. He registered just one point less than Eagle's scoring leader Chris Kreider - a highly touted New York Rangers prospect who played for the Blueshirts during the 2012 playoffs.
He tied Kreider in game-winning goals with five. Gaudreau was also tied for the team leads in points in a single game, thanks to his four-point performance on Oct. 8 against North Dakota, and assists in a single game with three.
While plus-minus ratings aren't the most accurate indicator of defensive responsibility, it does shed some light on how a player performed in their own end. Gaudreau's plus-20 rating was second only to defenceman Brian Dumoulin and given the amount of ice time the winger had throughout the year, finishing off the season with that stat attached to his name is a feat.
To cap off an incredible campaign, Gaudreau played a key role in Boston capturing the 2012 NCAA title. At the Frozen Four, he scored two goals and posted five points, tying him with Steven Whitney for the team lead in points scored during the tournament.
His play earned him several accolades throughout the season including being named Hockey East Rookie of the Week on more than one occasion, Hockey East All-Rookie Team honours, being named Hockey East Association Player of the Month in October and earning Beanpot tournament MVP honours. At the 63rd annual Pike's Peak Club awards banquet, the 19 year-old was named the Bernie Burke Outstanding Freshman.
"What is so impressive about it is that he has not just held his own against older, bigger, stronger players in both the USHL and NCAA, but he was an instant success as a player who gave the Fighting Saints and Eagles a lot of production to go with his high-end skill level," Luedeke noted. "It has been a remarkable couple of years for the Garden Stater."
Earlier in the year, Flames assistant general manager John Weisbrod told CalgaryFlames.com that since seeing Gaudreau at the 2011 development camp, he has felt the winger was one of the best prospects in Calgary's system thanks to his raw skill. Luedeke echoed that sentiment, noting that his talent overrides any detriments stemming from his stature.
"As an undersized guy, and let's be honest here - Gaudreau is on the lowest end of the spectrum size-wise - you need him to be explosive and fast with the quick hands to match the blazing wheels. He certainly brings that and more.
"I think his passion and work ethic are also worth noting. This is a kid who puts a great deal of effort into his preparation and performance and at the end of the day, it showed in just his first year."
While the success Gaudreau has had in Boston this year has left a lot of people very optimistic about his future, making the transition to the NHL is not easy. History has shown that being a dominant player in junior, NCAA or AHL ranks doesn't always equate to being able to make the leap to The Show. However, Lueduke's observations over the past couple of years makes him believe Gaudreau has the skill set and the intangibles needed to push him to the next level.
"I absolutely do feel he will be an NHL player," he said. "Johnny Gaudreau strikes me as one of those special players who simply has the hockey sense, drive and heart to go with his natural talent.
"Whether he can translate those gifts into a top-six scoring role remains to be seen, but he's done a great job of proving the doubters wrong his entire life."