Will Flames prospect Gaudreau turn pro or take the slow road to free agency?

Brian Costello
2014 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional

The Samuel Beckett play Waiting For Godot features two characters who wait endlessly for someone named Godot to arrive. To occupy themselves, they talk, argue, sing, eat, exercise, sleep, play games, even contemplate suicide.

It’s not quite that bad in Calgary Flames’ country where team management and Flames fans play the part of two characters waiting for Gaudreau to turn pro. It’s either going to happen within the next week – after Saturday’s Frozen Four final – or the wait will continue for another year.

But here’s the rub that has Flames fans worried the most. What if Gaudreau, who is heavily favored to win the Hobey Baker Award Friday as top player in U.S. college hockey, decides he wants to play his final season with the Boston College Eagles, even if they win the NCAA title Saturday?

Flames Nation is abuzz with concern that Gaudreau is bound and determined to finish his college career – even though its clear he has nothing left to prove at that level – in order to achieve free agency in the summer of 2015. In essence, become the next Justin Schultz.

Gaudreau was a fourth round draft pick of the Flames in 2011 and has evolved into the best prospect in the Calgary organization. He was ranked No. 1 on the Flames list and 29th overall in our Future Watch issue. The knock on him in his draft year was his size (5-foot-9, 159 pounds), which has not held him back at the college level. Gaudreau’s 35 goals and 77 points in 39 games this season are the most in NCAA hockey in 20 years. He’s a dynamic left winger with tremendous puck-moving ability who also stood out for the U.S. gold-medal team at the 2013 world juniors.

Flames fans have been anticipating his arrival since his breakout freshman season at Boston College in which he had 44 points in 44 games. They envision that raw skill some day translating into NHL success the way it did for other under-sized former Flames Theo Fleury and Martin St-Louis.

In recent weeks, reports have surfaced Gaudreau’s mother would like to see him finish his degree in communications, graduate and attend his prom. Prevailing wisdom suggests Gaudreau will surely listen to hockey advisors and mentors who know he now needs to challenge himself at a higher level in order to keep the development curve pointing up.

A report in the South Jersey Courier-Post last Thursday had Gaudreau’s father intimating the Flames may not be an ideal fit for his son. “I know that (Flames’ GM) Brian Burke likes big boys, big hockey players. My son is not a big hockey player. He’s made it clear that he likes him or whatever, but I don’t think he’s sold on him,” Guy Gaudreau said.

It should be pointed out, Johnny Gaudreau has always said the right things about the Flames organization – happy to be drafted by them, excited about some day joining the NHL team – and had a good relationship with deposed GM Jay Feaster and his assistant John Weisbrod.

All this recent speculation will be moot if Johnny G signs with the Flames after the NCAA title game. If there’s any dithering, however, Burke will have to consider trading Gaudreau’s rights in the coming year rather than lose him for nothing the way the Ducks lost Schultz. The Flames saw this happen with 2009 first-rounder Tim Erixon and Feaster had to trade him at the 11th hour.

If Gaudreau does stay in school another year, expect 2014-15 to be a season filled with Johnny G headlines and speculation. There would be plenty of NHL suitors for his services, especially in the Eastern Conference, closer to his home in New Jersey.

As for the Flames, the wait will continue for at least a few more days. As for Godot, he never did show up.

 

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN