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Flames' Gaudreau ready for extended NHL exam

by Aaron Vickers

PENTICTON, British Columbia -- He aced the exam after three years with Boston College. His NHL debut in April earned him a passing grade as well. A field trip to represent his country at the 2014 IIHF World Championship yielded a positive result, too.

Now Calgary Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau is facing his biggest test to date: his first pro training camp.

"I'm excited," said Gaudreau, who captured the Hobey Baker Award in April after he had 36 goals and 80 points last season, the top totals in NCAA hockey last season. "It's going to be different. I'm not really sure what to expect right now. I hear from the older guys it's a pretty tough camp. You've got to be mentally prepared and physically prepared. I'm just trying to make sure I'm in the best shape and have the best possible chance to make this team."

He's put himself in a good position.


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The 5-foot-9, 150-pound forward is using the Young Stars Classic as a training camp tune-up. He's scored goals in both games he's suited up for. He also scored in his first NHL game last season, the season finale for the Flames.

In Penticton he has looked superior to his peers despite his diminutive stature. It's all been with one goal in mind for a player ranked No. 26 on the Top 60 prospect rankings for this season.

"You're playing against NHL players in main camp," said Gaudreau, selected by Calgary in the fourth round (No. 104) at the 2011 NHL Draft. "Your game needs to get better whether it's in the offensive or defensive zone. In rookie camp right now you're just trying to get your feet wet and then you're starting into the main camp, the real camp, where you want to make the team.

"Definitely your game has to change a little bit."

But Calgary coach Bob Hartley already is a fan of what Gaudreau brings and could add to the rebuilding Flames.

"I've spent quite a bit of time with Johnny in the past months," he said. "No. 1, he's a great human being. I believe that great people make great teams. It's his hockey smarts with the puck, his knowledge of the game, his vision with the puck, his ability to create space for himself while giving unbelievable passes. It seems that he has that knack to make simple plays that other players just can't do."

A search on YouTube certainly supports Hartley's claim. The video service is littered with highlights of Gaudreau's exploits, including a pair of recent additions from the Young Stars tournament.

But practice and highlight-reel goals can't cure the biggest knock against Gaudreau's bid to make the Flames and be an impact NHL player: his size.

It's something he has faced throughout his career.

"He's going to fight [questions about] his size," Hartley said. "I'm sure he started this when he was 7, 8 years old. He's heard many times that he was way too small and he couldn't do it . . . and here he is, knocking at the NHL door. I'm with him. I'm a big fan of Johnny Gaudreau and all of our kids."

Gaudreau might not get another opportunity to showcase the skills Hartley has enjoyed here. After playing in Calgary's first two games, the 21-year-old likely will watch the finale Monday against the Vancouver Canucks.

That doesn't mean his work is done, though.

Gaudreau will continue pushing on with Calgary's main camp next week, a message delivered repeatedly throughout the summer by Hartley and Flames general manager Brad Treliving.

"It's just keeping working hard; as hard as you can," Gaudreau said. "I talked to both of them in the summer time, making sure that everything I'm doing, three or four extra reps either in the weight room or on the ice, you have to make sure you're one of the better players out there for main camp."

It's a lot of effort to avoid being cut from a team for the first time since 2012, when as a college freshman he failed to make the United States roster for the IIHF World Junior Championship. He did make it the following year, and scored seven goals in seven games to help the Americans to a gold medal.

Gaudreau wants to avoid that feeling again and be on the ice when Calgary opens the season Oct. 8 against the Canucks.

"No one likes getting cut, obviously," he said. "I've been cut about three, four, times now. It just sticks with you throughout the whole season. Getting cut from that World Junior team made me become a better player. I tried to turn the heads of those coaches and made sure they thought it was a mistake for cutting me and just try show them I could've helped the team out.

"Hopefully I'm not going to go through that again."

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