CALGARY, AB -- Centre Matthew Phillips is one of many young hockey players who admires Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau.
Phillips, at 5-foot-6, 140 pounds, looks up to Gaudreau, 5-foot-9, 157 pounds, literally and figuratively. A sixth round pick (No. 166) by Calgary at the 2016 NHL Draft, he certainly doesn't mind the comparisons to the two-time NHL all-star.
"It's pretty cool," Phillips said. "I'm a smaller player … I could be a goalie and I might get compared to Johnny Gaudreau. It's cool to kind of be compared. Being a smaller player, you need to play at a faster pace. If that's exciting to watch, then that's great. It's something that is pretty cool. Getting mentioned with him is pretty special. He's a guy that I've watched a lot and looked up to and tried to model parts of my game after him.
"It's pretty cool for sure."
Phillips had 76 points (37 goals, 39 assists) in 72 games with Victoria of the Western Hockey League last season and won the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year before being drafted by Calgary.
Gaudreau was tied for sixth in the NHL with 78 points (30 goals, 48 assists) in 79 games last season, his second in the League. He had 64 points in 80 games in 2014-15 and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
Unsurprisingly, Gaudreau can connect to Phillips. After all, it wasn't too long ago Gaudreau was drafted in the fourth round (No. 104) by the Flames in 2011 at 5-foot-6 and 141 pounds.
"It's a little strange at times when I think about it," Gaudreau said. "I've only been in the League for a few years now. It's cool to think someone is looking up to me, but when you look at his backstory … being a smaller guy … I might have even been bigger than him when I was drafted. We're pretty similar.
"I can relate to him pretty well because there were guys playing in the NHL when I was drafted that were only in the League for two or three years that I was looking up to too."
Phillips' focus on Gaudreau extends beyond their shared diminutive stature. The 18-year-old is a Calgary native, so naturally his connection to Gaudreau grew first as a Flames fan.
"My first good look at him was at the World Juniors when he won gold [in 2012 with the United States]," Phillips said. "Every game I watched, he lit it up. Then I found out he was a Flames prospect. My eyes blew open there. I've been glued to his games ever since.
"I just like watching his focus. When he has the puck, I watch how creative he is. He doesn't shy away from making the bold play with the puck that if it works, it's high reward. Not just that, but his focus on the ice, from what I hear around the rink, is pretty special. I like watching his demeanor on the ice and how he approaches it all."
That approach has seen Gaudreau, 22, skyrocket from a standout with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League, to a star and Hobey Baker Award winner at Boston College, to a cornerstone with the Flames.
Gaudreau has learned some lessons along the way, ones he hopes he can pass on to help Phillips in his development.
"For him, getting stronger … it's a given," said Gaudreau, who will represent Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. "You want to get as strong as you can. For us small players, being strong from the waist down is really important for us. When you're skating, you've got to keep your head up at all times. You can't be getting hit from guys like [Zdeno] Chara every night and expect to be playing for a long time. It won't happen. You have to keep your head up.
"There's a lot of things I can give advice for, but it'll be his attitude that is going to make him become a better player. You need to set goals for yourself and make sure you are working hard."
Phillips already has started to heed Gaudreau's advice in the hopes of one day joining him on Calgary's roster.
"For me, I need a lot more power in my game," Phillips said. "I think I'm a pretty quick player, but once you get that power then you kind of have more dimensions to your game and you're more explosive.
"If you're not working on that, then you're going to fall behind pretty quick."
Author: Aaron Vickers | NHL.com Correspondent