SUN Hockey Pool

Flames wing prospect has no shortage of skill

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:32 AM ET

CALGARY - Before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames came up with a list of prospects ranked without parameters.

It was about grabbing the best player available regardless of things like the position he played, country he comes from or his size.

Calling winger John Gaudreau’s name in the fourth round, they proved that list held true when it came to height.

Watching the Carney’s Point, N.Y., product scoot around the ice at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex this week during the Flames’ summer development camp — his red jersey nearly at his knees on his (generously-listed) 5-foot-8 frame — it’s clear the team’s philosophy has evolved.

“Size obviously wasn’t a factor,” said GM Jay Feaster, who knows one of the best small-in-stature NHLers pretty well from his time in Tampa.

“Marty St. Louis is not a very big guy, but his heart’s bigger than most buildings.

“We’re looking for guys that can play hockey, not guys that can dunk a basketball.”

Gaudreau isn’t about to hang from the rim of any regulation hoop on the court, but he looks like he can dangle a puck and comes with a well-researched reputation of getting things done despite his lack of size.

“Anybody you’ve talked to about him, the bigger the game, the tougher the game, the better he played,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “That’s a very intriguing sign. They say he’s got great bite to his game. You don’t measure the heart of a player by how big he is.”

But by being small, Gaudreau might be even more motivated than most.

“People have always told me I can never make it because I’m too small,” said Gaudreau, dwarfed in the middle of a massive scrum in the hallway. “But it’s just motivation to keep playing and try to prove them wrong.

“Hopefully, I keep playing the way I’m playing and keep proving them wrong.”

The 18-year-old isn’t alone. There are nine prospects listed under 6 feet and another eight listed right on the 6-foot mark. They include 13th overall pick Sven Baertschi (5-foot-11) and Paul Byron (5-foot-10), who came over from the Buffalo Sabres system in the Robyn Regehr trade.

Typically the smallest guy in camp, Byron had to grin at the sight of Gaudreau.

“I heard they drafted a smaller guy,” said the 22-year-old, who was selected in the sixth round in 2007. “I remember when I got drafted by Buffalo, I wasn’t much bigger than (Gaudreau). He’ll definitely grow by the time he’s my age.”

Turning a strong finish in the junior ranks into an impressive couple of pro seasons with the Portland Pirates, Byron is hoping to add his name to the list of diminutive dynamos in the NHL.

“Smaller guys do have a place in the NHL right now,” said Byron. “Seeing them and what they’ve accomplished is great for me and I think I can do the same thing.”


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