Playing today, they’re just giddy and anxious. It’s a pretty cool thing, a special thing. They look good, look good out there snapping around. Strong skill sets on them. It’ll be fun to watch them tomorrow night and play with them. - Mike Cammalleri
VANCOUVER, BC -- Saturday’s spin at Rogers Arena in Vancouver wasn’t just the first taste of the National Hockey League for Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold.
It was the first opportunity for the Calgary Flames to get an up-close look at the freshly signed Boston College boys, who joined the team in time to skate in their first NHL game in Sunday’s finale against the Vancouver Canucks.
And that first impression went well.
“They’re two young players that are obviously very excited, very nervous of making their NHL debut tomorrow night,” coach Bob Hartley said. “I thought that they both had a great practice based on the little [information] that we [gave] them for what we’re expecting out of players at practice, little details about what we’re expecting from players also.”
From a player’s perspective, the kids showed well, too.
Mike Cammalleri liked what he saw out of the pair.
“It’s exciting for them,” Cammalleri said. “You can’t help but to be excited for them. Playing today, they’re just giddy and anxious. It’s a pretty cool thing, a special thing. They look good, look good out there snapping around. Strong skill sets on them. It’ll be fun to watch them tomorrow night and play with them.”
Paul Byron may have got the best look, though.
Byron took the first spins alongside the pair, flanking the right wing with Arnold down the middle and Gaudreau taking up residency on the other side.
Like Cammalleri, Byron came away impressed.
“They’re great hockey players,” he said. “They’ve had success and for them, it’s just a matter of playing their game, not worrying about what’s going on the outside. Sometimes when you play with players in the NHL, you look to give it off to them. Hopefully playing with me, we can just work together as a unit.”
While the initial reviews have been favorable for the Boston College standouts, Arnold knows there’s plenty of work remaining before he establishes himself as a regular NHLer.
The jump from the college ranks to pro isn’t an easy one, after all.
But he’ll have plenty of help.
“Everyone is bigger, faster, stronger so there’s always going to be an adjustment there,” Arnold said. “The guys have been good, [it’s nice] to just get a skate in and meet everyone.
“It definitely adds a comfort level having one of my best friends here from school. I know Kenny (Agostino) and Byrce (Van Brabant), I had a bunch of questions for them this morning and everyone has been great so far.”
The biggest asset Arnold and Gaudreau share heading into their debut Sunday is in each other.
The pair, linemates on the ice and friends off it, have been able to help each other through a 72-hour span that has seen their Eagles eliminated in the Frozen Four semifinal, Gaudreau earn the Hobey Baker Memorial Award nod, a pair of contracts signed and their first NHL practice.
“I feel like it would be a lot more stressful and nerve-racking without Billy here,” Gaudreau said. “By yourself it would probably be more difficult. He’s one of my best buddies at school and it makes the transition a lot easier having him here.”
If the transition alone isn’t enough to weigh on Gaudreau, the expectations are.
Calgary’s fourth pick (No. 104) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft shredded NCAA competition this year, recording a national-best 36 goals, 44 assists and 80 points -- the most since Colorado College’s Peter Sejna hit 82 in 2002-03. Gaudreau’s 31-game point scoring streak also matched a Hockey East record set by Maine's Paul Kariya.
Needless to say, plenty is expected from the 20-year-old.
“How ready he is? We’ll get answers at training camp next year,” Hartley said.
“Tomorrow it’s going to be a good test. [The Canucks] are a big physical team; they skate well. It’s a good test, but it’s an unfair test -- he didn’t get all the system work that we’ve been putting in since day one at camp, all the practices, the chemistry with his teammates."
Still, both Gaudreau and Arnold will have the opportunity to leave a more lasting impression heading into the summer.