Johnny Gaudreau (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
The Flames may struggle on the ice again this season, but at least the team is undertaking an exciting rebuild featuring some very talented offensive weapons up front.
Not a lot of wins have come out of Alberta in recent years, but at least there is hope in both markets. Edmonton has toiled for years and had the more high-profile rebuild, but Calgary is quickly putting together a nice coterie of players as well.
Sean Monahan has already made a dent in the NHL and two other names are poised to join him up front on the Flames sooner than later: Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett.
Gaudreau, the Hobey Baker winner from Boston College, already has one game under his belt from last season and he even scored that night. Undersized but incredibly fast and skilled, 'Johnny Hockey' is excited to be with Calgary.
“Just looking down the depth chart you see a ton of young players who are already talented," he said. "It’s great to be part of an organization that’s coming up. There’s definitely an upside.”
The New Jersey native has largely been an East Coast guy for the early part of his career, though he did play in Dubuque, Iowa, during his United States League days. Still, he has been impressed by the natural majesty out West, particularly one feature.
“Mountains," Gaudreau said. "I had never seen a mountain before in my life until I got to Calgary, then the next day I was hiking on one.”
Gaudreau was the MVP of a monster line at Boston College with fellow Flames prospect Bill Arnold and recent Rangers signing Kevin Hayes. He was the trigger man of the trio with a team-best 36 goals and that puck acumen was on full display at the Flames' rookie development camp, where the team's first selection in 2014 was stoked to see Gaudreau in action.
“It was definitely really cool," Bennett said. "He amazed me with what he can do with the puck.”
And the love goes both ways. Bennett had a fantastic season himself in the Ontario League, racking up 91 points in just 57 games for the Kingston Frontenacs. His ability to change the pace of a game has also been lauded, so it's no surprise Calgary snapped him up with the fourth pick overall this summer.
“Fun to play with," Gaudreau said. "He's talented and he can see the ice really well. When you don’t expect a pass, he puts it right on your stick. I really enjoyed my time playing with him at development camp.”
Of course, the next goal for both players is to land a full-time gig with the NHL squad. Bennett would have to return to junior if Calgary feels he needs more time to develop, while Gaudreau, who is three years older at 21, would go to the American League. If the past is any indication, the Boston College alum has the ability to make a run at the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year if he gets the opportunity. Considering how punchless the Flames offense was last year, you would think Bennett and Gaudreau would both be welcome, but Bennett in particular will have to really impress since he's still a teenager.
Nevertheless, it's hard for the pair not to think about what this Flames team may look like in a few years, especially if Calgary gets a player such as Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin in the 2015 draft.
“Obviously right now our main focus is just making the team," Bennett said. "But in a couple of years, we want to have a lot of success.”