Mark Giordano is a gem.
Plucking him from a muddy pool of undrafted free agents following a couple of years in the Ontario Hockey League, the Calgary Flames helped polish Giordano to the point his value may ultimately exceed their budget.
But you can bet they’ll enjoy every shining moment of his play this season.
After an 11-goal, 30-point campaign, the 26-year-old defenceman is no longer an unknown commodity. He’ll be a hot one should the Flames fail to lock him up to a new deal before July 1 and allow him to hit the open market as a free agent.
Only a dozen NHL blueliners scored more goals in 2009-10, and his point total landed him in the top 50 among rearguards while skating an average of less than 21 minutes per game.
And his plus/minus rating of 17 — the 16th best among defencemen in the league — was a team high, 10 better than the next highest blueliner on the squad.
Expect every category to improve this year.
That’s just what he does.
“I think with every year that goes by, I feel a little more confident,” Giordano said humbly. “I guess that shows in the play.”
Looking for a one-way deal after a promising seven goals and 15 points in 48 games in 2006-07, the Toronto product went to Russia for a year to prove a point.
Landing a new deal upon his return, he proved he belonged in the NHL by earning 19 points in 58 games before a brutal shoulder injury ended his season.
Then came last season’s breakout.
Not bad for a guy who probably wasn’t picturing himself in the pros while other kids his age were being drafted.
“Obviously, being undrafted and coming in the way I did, it would have sounded a little far-fetched to eventually turn into a full-time, everyday guy,” Giordano said. “But at the same time, I went through the minor-league systems and that helped a lot.
“I learned a lot in my first three, four years pro.”
He’s already accomplished more than anyone thought the smooth-skating puck-mover was capable of when he was eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in 2002.
That year saw three blueliners selected in the top five. The first, at third-overall by the Florida Panthers, was current Flames teammate Jay Bouwmeester.
The Philadelphia Flyers grabbed Joni Pitkanen fourth overall, and the Pittsburgh Penguins took Ryan Whitney with the fifth pick.
His road was a little longer in getting here, but Giordano can now be considered a talent as promising as his fellow Flame Bouwmeester.
“People probably put too much into the draft. The guys in the first round or two, they’re going to get some opportunities,” Bouwmeester said. “There’s a lot of guys that don’t get drafted that are still good players.
“It’s a credit to (Giordano) to keep at it. He obviously got an opportunity somewhere along the line and took advantage of it. Sometimes, that’s all you need.”
A break is important. The belief of management and coaching staff is even better. But the talent and effort has to be there, too, and Giordano admits it wasn’t obvious even when he was toiling for the Brampton Capitals of the OPJHL back in 2002.
“Bottom line is at that time in my hockey career, I wasn’t good enough to be considered a future NHL player or a top prospect. I wasn’t good enough at that age,” Giordano said. “I thought, though, that as the years went by and I got older and stronger and better prepared mentally, I think that’s what helps.
“Being drafted, not being drafted, guys still have to work super hard.”
There are now lofty expectations being heaped on Giordano, whose ability to handle them after his long road to the brink of NHL stardom seems to go hand-in-hand with his appreciation for where he’s at.
“It definitely feels good,” he said, “to be able to say that you play in the NHL.”