Max Gildon isn't your average freshman.
A third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in June's NHL draft, Gildon has easily been one of college hockey's most impressive defenseman throughout the first month of the 2017-18 season, gaining national attention for the offensive impact he's already bringing to the University of New Hampshire's blue line.
"It's been awesome," Gildon told FloridaPanthers.com. "The guys on my team, upperclassman and stuff like that, have really helped me out a lot. It's just been a lot of fun."
Last season, no UNH defenseman scored more than three goals, yet somehow Gildon managed to match that number in just one night, scoring three times on four shots to lead UNH to a 6-3 win over Colorado College on Oct. 20.
"It was awesome," said Gildon, whose hat trick was the first for UNH in almost a year. "It's always good to get on the scoresheet and stuff like that. I'm just happy to help my teammates out and help them win. It helped us get off to a good start."
A two-way defenseman with a knack for finding the back of the net, Gildon currently leads all NCAA defenseman with six goals through seven games.
"I'm just trying to get better every day," said Gildon, who has also tallied two assists to go along with his staggering goal total. "I want to make it to the NHL, but that's not all that's on my mind. I'm trying to kind of live in the moment and take it day-by-day. I just want to get better every day. I'm looking to improve in all areas."
Gildon, 18, is one of four NHL draftees currently playing for the No. 13 Wildcats (5-1-1), joining upperclassmen Shane Eiserman (2014, 100th overall), Marcus Vela (2015, 190th overall) and Mike Robinson (2015, 86th overall), as well as fellow freshman blueliner Benton Mass (2017, 182nd overall).
When looking at schools, Gildon said the fact that UNH had produced several NHL-caliber defensemen, including Trevor van Riemsdyk (2011-14) and Brett Pesce (2012-15), both of whom are playing for the Carolina Hurricanes, helped make his decision to enroll that much easier.
"New Hampshire does have a long history of defenseman and stuff," Gildon said. "It's been awesome. All the coaching staff has really helped me out and helped me be more defensive and stuff like that. It's been awesome to learn from them."
At 6-foot-3 and 191 pounds, Gildon's size, potential and early offensive outburst has already made quite the impression on head coach Dick Umile, who is in his 27th and final season behind the Wildcats' bench.
"Gildon is scoring on the rush like a forward," Umile told the New Hampshire Union Leader. "He can really go with the puck. He's pretty talented with his stick, so he can play defense (but) he has to get used to this level and how quickly the play can turn around. He's a very talented player. As an offensive defenseman, he's probably as good as you can get."
That's some profound praise from one of the NCAA's all-time coaches.
But nevertheless, Gildon isn't satisfied simply being known as one of the best offensive defenseman in college hockey. For in order to make the eventual jump to the NHL, the Plano, Texas product believes that he needs to continue working on becoming a more complete, well-rounded skater.
"The NHL is super fast," Gildon said. "It's a best-in-the-world league, so you've got to be great in all areas. I think I'm just working to get to that NHL-level more than anything, rather than thinking about just one aspect of my game. I'd love to play in the NHL. It's been my dream for a long time. Hopefully it's with the Panthers."
Until then, Gildon is keeping up with the Panthers the way most teenagers do.
"I follow them on social media," he said. "I keep up with all their games."
Above photo courtesy of: China Wong