The top two centres in the Canucks prospect pool come from miles apart. One was picked fifth overall; the other was picked in the fifth round. One is a skilled Swedish playmaker; the other is a gritty American two-way forward. One is already playing professional hockey against men; the other is still in the NCAA.
Adam Gaudette made sure he wasn’t overshadowed by Elias Pettersson at Canucks development camp, however, making his presence felt at the team’s summer showcase scrimmage. When Pettersson scored two highlight reel goals, Gaudette came back and scored a couple pretty goals of his own. And when Pettersson tried to get a bit too fancy behind the net, Gaudette closed the gap and sat him down hard on the ice.
“He’s definitely a higher pick than me,” he said. “I’d like to show that I can compete at the level he’s competing, show everyone that I can play at the same pace he can.”
In many ways, Gaudette showed how he can be a complementary player to Pettersson. His defensively-responsible, hard-forechecking play is a nice balance to Pettersson’s finesse. It also brought to mind another past Canuck that complemented a highly-skilled Swede: Ryan Kesler.
Is it unfair to compare Gaudette to a 40-goal-scoring, Selke-winning Kesler? Of course. Just like it’s unfair to compare Pettersson and Dahlen to the Art-Ross-winning, sure-fire-Hall-of-Fame Sedins.
But in the case of Gaudette and Kesler, there are legitimate reasons to make the comparison. They play a similar style of game, they both have a penchant for powerplay goals, and, once Gaudette fills out his frame, they’re likely to be about the same size. Both grew up in suburbia just a little ways outside a major NHL city: Livonia, MI for Kesler and Braintree, MA for Gaudette.
The similarities don’t end there: just look at each of their freshman season in the NCAA. Kesler scored 11 goals and 31 points in 40 games with Ohio State. Gaudette scored 12 goals and 30 points in 41 games for Northeastern. Kesler had 4 power play goals and 1 shorthanded goal. Gaudette had 5 power play goals and 1 shorthanded goal.
The major difference in their freshman years is that Kesler’s came in his draft year, while Gaudette’s came the year after he was drafted. Even still, they were only 10 months apart in age.
After their freshman years, Kesler and Gaudette went in different directions. Kesler turned pro right away, splitting the 2003-04 season with the Canucks and Manitoba Moose, while Gaudette returned to Northeastern. Judging from his subsequent season, however, Gaudette could have turned pro: he racked up 26 goals and 52 points in 37 games.
One caveat: Gaudette was playing with the Hockey East Player of the Year and Hobey Baker finalist Zach Aston-Reese, so that likely helps his numbers. That said, the Huskies were missing the Stevens brothers for much of the year with injuries, so Gaudette was heavily relied upon and opposing defences could key on the top line with Northeastern lacking scoring depth.
Comparing Gaudette’s NCAA season to Kesler’s professional season becomes complicated, but there’s one way we can do it. Using Rob Vollman’s NHL equivalency numbers, we can estimate how Gaudette would perform the season after his sophomore year.
NHL equivalency numbers are calculated by looking at how players have performed after directly making the jump from their respective leagues to the NHL. For the Hockey East conference this year, the number is 0.38: multiplying Gaudette’s points-per-game by 0.38 gives us an estimate of how he might perform in the coming year if he were to make the jump to the NHL.
Running this estimation for Gaudette gives us 0.534 points per game. Over an 82-game season, that’s 44 points.
Keeping in mind that it’s just an estimation and doesn’t take into account that he would be playing for the offensively-challenged Canucks, that’s a pretty encouraging number. It also dwarfs what Kesler did in his third year after being drafted, scoring 10 goals and 23 points in 82 games.
Does that mean that Gaudette could have a similar, if not better, future as Kesler? Not necessarily, but he definitely looks like he could be a strong third-line centre at the NHL level, capable of playing a similar role as Kesler before he erupted and become one of the best second-line centres in the NHL. But the Canucks are incredibly high on Gaudette.
“He’s been somebody I’ve kind of had in my back pocket for a couple years and now I can’t keep him secret anymore,” said Ryan Johnson, Canucks director of player development. “it’s amazing to see his strength and his stride coming together the way we thought it would.”
Gaudette won’t be making the jump to the NHL this season, however, as he is returning to Northeastern for his Junior year. Johnson respects his choice to return to the NCAA, because he knows it’s for the right reasons.
“Could he have come out this year and competed and done well? Yes,” said Johnson. “But his intention is to put on some more weight and get stronger and he doesn’t want to come out and just survive or compete, he wants to come out and hit the ground running.”
For Gaudette, the next season will still be a challenge: two of Northeastern’s top scorers, Aston-Reese and John Stevens, have graduated and turned pro, Aston-Reese with the Penguins and Stevens with the Islanders. While the team is still loaded with talent, Gaudette will play a significant leadership role.
On top of that, Johnson stresses that Gaudette cannot be satisfied with just being one of the top players in the NCAA. “How do we keep a guy like that focused on still improving,” he says, “when you’re already considered one of the better players? What can you focus on on a daily basis, that you’re not getting stale or content with just being good at that level.”
Judging from his drive to compete hard and play a 200-foot game even in a prospect scrimmage, motivation won’t be a concern for Gaudette. And one of his fellow college hockey players doesn’t seem to concerned either.
“I’ve always thought he was a tremendous player,” said Brock Boeser, “I can’t imagine what he’s going to be like this year: I think he’s going to be one of the most dangerous players in college hockey.”