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FLAMES EXTRA - CENTRE STAGE

Prospect Glenn Gawdin is having a stellar season in The Dub which is good news for an organization always looking for depth at his position

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

For its manufacturers, the play itself couldn't be considered anything spectacularly out of step.

 It's significance, though, was undeniable.

The captain's 300th WHL game on Feb. 10, with accompanying pre-puck-drop video tribute. A wedged-in crowd of 3,000 packing Credit Union IPlex to see the Swift Current Broncos tackle the invading Brandon Wheat Kings.

Then late in the first period …

 "Kind of a breakout,'' Glenn Gawdin says, recalling the moment. "I got a pass coming through the middle, and my winger, (Tyler) Steenbergen, was busting to the net.

"I laid the puck out for him and he had a breakaway pretty much from the top of the circles in and buried it for me.

"I mean, give that guy the puck, you have a good idea he's going to score.

"So, an assist.

"Point No. 100.

"Pretty cool."

The first in his league to reach the century mark.

Since then, the Flames' prospect poached goal No. 50 Friday against Medicine Hat and at 111 points currently stands atop the summit of the Western Hockey League scoring charts.

In this, his fifth and final season of major junior - all spent in Speedy Creek - the Broncos' linchpin pivot is certainly making one splashy exit.

He ranks first in powerplay goals (19), in first goals of games (9) and plus-minus (+53), as well as being positioned third in both goals (51) and assists (60), making him an obvious frontrunner for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as WHL player-of-the-year.

Swifty's go-to line could accurately be described as the scourge of the Dub, combining for 302 points to date. Alexei Heponiemi - a second-round pick of Florida in 2017 - sits second on the WHL scoring charts at 103 points, Steenburgen - a fifth-rounder to Arizona in 23017 - sixth with 88.

"And if Tyler hadn't gone away to the world juniors,'' reminds Gawdin, "he'd be right up there, over 100, too.

"I wouldn't be close to the numbers I have without those guys. The chemistry we have right from the get-go was huge, and we've just kept thriving off of it.

"I mean, you've still got to go out and work. It doesn't just … happen. But with the way our team's built, our game-planning, we knew there were going to be moments for points, for success."

With 12 dates left on the regular-season docket, there's little chance he can challenge Jason Krywulak's Swift Current franchise-record for points, an eye-popping 162 put up in 1992-93, or second-place Joe Sakic's haul of 160 even further back, in '87-88.

Still, he's hob-knobbing in some pretty elite company.

"Honestly, I've just been trying to live in the moment,'' says Gawdin, "but lately after I was told I'd passed a couple guys, I started to understand a bit better.

"Personally, I had no idea.

"I've had my five years here but when you see names like Sheldon Kennedy or Joe Sakic, big-time players, I never would've thought I'd ever even be in the mix with them.''

Originally drafted in the fourth round (116th overall) by the St. Louis Blues at the 2015 draft at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, Gawdin went unsigned, leaving him free to sign with any team. Calgary caught him on the rebound.

"As a 20-year-old, an overage player, a guy with experience in the league, you figure he's going to take a step,'' says Calgary GM Brad Treliving of Gawdin's gaudy season.

"But he's put up some pretty impressive numbers. You can't deny what he's done. You kind of anticipate a spike, but … he's having one helluva year."

One of the organization's western league scouts, Darren Kruger, has been a vocal Gawdin booster.

"Once he was able to figure out how the league worked, given the way he thinks the game, his skill-package and his compete level, you just knew he was going to be a top-end player,'' says Kruger.

"Coming to (Flames) camp and having an impressive showing gave him a lot of confidence for this year. When he first got into the league, as good a player as he was, I don't think he was committed to every aspect of the game. Same as with a lot of young guys, their game needs to sharpen up in all areas. And he's been able to do that.

"What was impressive to me was when he lost his wingers ( Heponiemi to Finland, Steenburgen to Canada) to the World Juniors, he continued to be productive and make the guys around him better.

"He's the type of player who can change the momentum of any game in a number of ways."

Following an impressive turn at development and main camp, and a strong start to his junior season, the product of Richmond, B.C., was inked to a standard three-year entry level deal Nov. 16.

"First of all,'' explains Treliving, "we're kinda partial to defencemen and centres. So if you're one of those, we've got a built-in soft spot for you. And he's a right-shot centre. So you sort of start there and then begin assessing him as a player.

"The things our organization has always liked about him are his intelligence, number one, and then his competitiveness. He has leadership abilities. A character kid.

"Those things give you a base to say: OK, this is someone we want to bring to camp. 

"We got to know him a little bit in the summer and then later at rookie camp. We liked what we saw and told him: 'We're going to follow you' knowing other teams would be, too. But we built that relationship and come November we'd seen enough.

"There are definitely areas to improve on - he's got to get quicker, stronger. All those things young players gotta do, right? I don't see him putting up those kind of numbers as he moves along, but he thinks the game real well, plays both sides of the puck and, like I said, you can never, ever have too many centres in your system.

"We think a lot of him."

 

Gawdin won't deny the disappointing way the relationship with the Blues ended provided him with a fuel re-fill.

"Being passed over by St. Louis, I wanted to prove some people wrong,'' he acknowledges. "I kinda had that in the back of my mind. I wanted to show people I could put up numbers.

"I was coming into my 20-year-old year fighting for a contract. I just wanted a chance to show what I could do.

"Being there at development camp and main camp, talking with my agent, we felt Calgary was a good fit. I'm glad they did, too."

Gawdin can count on a significant jump-up in class next season, wherever the Flames decide to place him developmentally.

"Moving forward, the challenge is making his off-ice really good,'' says Kruger. "He'll need some experience in the American Hockey League but coming off a great year like this one has to give him a lot of confidence. I felt this was a player who fits right into what we think of as a Calgary Flame: Skill. Hockey sense. Great compete.

"That's what we're always looking for.

"I think someday he's going to play in the National Hockey League. It's just a matter of when."

For the time being, Gawdin's aim is really making this a swan song for the scrapbook.

There is, of course, a little matter of the 100th Memorial Cup, set for the Brandt Centre in Regina from May 18-27.

The Broncos, ranked fifth in the country by the Canadian Hockey League, continue to battle with the Moose Jaw Warriors for top spot in the division but are already assured of a playoff spot.

"Coming into this season I didn't really know what to expect,'' acknowledges Gawdin, "or even where I'd end up.

"Being sent home after main camp in Calgary, coming back here to Swift Current, to junior, I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and I decided I wanted to make the most of it.

"From the start of the season, with the success our team was having and myself, personally, it's just kind of built and built.

"Our eyes are fixed on (the Memorial Cup). We're comfortable and confident we can get there; that we're capable of doing something special."

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