CALGARY, AB --
Wandering through the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex, forward John Gaudreau
hardly sticks out in the crowd.
Listed at 5'6 and 137 lbs by the NHL at the 2011 Entry Draft, Gaudreau's size is far from impressive. In fact, people have told him his stature will keep him from ever playing in the NHL.
But Gaudreau is incredibly talented. There were whispers in Minnesota he may be, hands down, the most skilled player in the 2011 draft crop.
"He's one of the most dynamic offensive talents that our country has seen in the past 10 years," former coach Jared Beach told The Courier Post. "His name is right up there with Patrick Kane, a smaller guy with an unbelievable skill set."
Offensively, Gaudreau can do it all. He's a sniper who potted 36 goals last season at the USHL level. He's a creative playmaker who reads the ice far better than most his age. Coaches have said he can create scoring chances out of nowhere and is quick enough to avoid being plowed over by opposition hoping to silence him.
The 17 year-old came into development wide-eyed and looking a little shell-shocked but has settled in with his fellow prospects.
"I'm nervous," he admitted. "I mean, I've never done this before obviously but hopefully I can represent the Calgary Flames well and play for them some day, if I keep play well."
Like most of the players at camp, the biggest challenge came in the form of the dreaded fitness testing.
"It was just what I thought it was going it be. It was tough, it was hard ... it was nerve-wracking at first but getting through the first exercise got me on my way."
After he got his barrings, his on-ice performance this week has surprised more than a few people. At times, he's looked like the best forward in the prospect pool thanks to his puck-handling skills and speed.
When defencemen who have close to a foot in height on him came bearing down, he looked poised and simply deked around them before dishing the puck off to a teammate or wiring a shot on net.
In short, no pun intended, his size hasn't been an issue at camp.
Gaudreau claims he's now passed the 5'7 mark and is hovering around 150 lbs but that slight increase won't silence the naysayers and the Carney Point, NJ native knows that.
"People keep telling me I can't make it and I just use it as motivation and keep pushing and try to prove them wrong. Hopefully I can keep proving them wrong."
The fourth round pick won't be making waves any time soon and the organization isn't expecting him to. Instead, Gaudreau is the type of player one would dub a long-term project. He'll be given the time to bulk up and grow accustomed to playing against men much larger than he.
The USHL rookie of the year has already started working on putting on weight. Gaudreau employs a trainer back home in New Jersey to help him continue to add on to his frame and will be a constant presence at the Northeastern University gym, where he'll play in the 2011-12 season.
He knows it will be a long road to the NHL but when he sees players like Martin St. Louis and Kane playing in the league, he knows it's possible.
"I've just got to keep working and prove I can do it, that I can make it."Follow Torie Peterson on Twitter | @ToriePeterson