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Steinberg's Slant: Two prospects, one school, and lots of potential

Tuesday, 03.04.2012 / 12:22 PM / News
By Pat Steinberg

Seeing the Boston College Eagles one game away from competing for the NCAA National Championship isn’t a surprise whatsoever.  The 2010 National Champion is a frequent entrant in the Frozen Four and has now won three straight Hockey East conference titles.  The Eagles will take on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers on April 5th with the winner earning a spot in the national title game two days later.  It’s the biggest stage in college hockey and this year you can watch a couple promising Calgary Flames prospects help BC in their quest.

John Gaudreau

Drafted in the fourth round last June, Gaudreau had originally committed to Northeastern University for next season.  Instead, it was off to Boston College for this season, and what a decision that’s turned out to be.  In 42 games this season, Johnny has tallied 20 goals and 41 points en route to a pretty prestigious award.  Gaudreau is the 2012 William Flynn Award winner for Hockey East MVP, becoming just the fifth freshman to get that nod.

The first thing you notice when watching Gaudreau on the ice is his size, because he’s not what you’d call the largest in stature.  Standing 5’7 at 150 pounds, the freshman forward uses people knocking his frame only as motivation, and to be honest, talking about it is a little tired.  Why?  Because as soon as you see him touch the puck, any thought of his small stature goes out the window.

“With the puck he can make some really exciting things happen,” his Head Coach told me on Tuesday afternoon.

Jerry York has seen names like Brian Gionta, Brooks Orpik, and Cory Schneider play for his program since he took over in 1994.  Second all time on the NCAA wins list, it’s a fairly safe bet to say he has a keen eye for talent.

“Very quick stick and he can make saucer passes, he can pass it on his backhand.   Right now he’s developing a shot with a little bit of a quicker release, a little bit more strength to the shot, a little more power to it, you know he’s going to be able to go more than a point per game here.”

It’s absolutely clear when watching Gaudreau play how much skill he has.  He’s quick, he’s shifty, he does amazing things with the puck, and he understands the game at a very high level.  These are things the Flames have pinpointed as key organizational traits going forward.  They’ve also identified good character as a hallmark for players brought into the organization, and York believes his freshman forward has that in spades.

“It all goes back to how you’re raised and his parents have done a terrific job of keeping him very, very humble.  He played in an area of the States which is not producing an awful lot of players in southern New Jersey.  He went across the line to Philadelphia to play for some of the Comcast programs they have there, so, he’s not coming from Minneapolis, Detroit or Boston, but from an area that just hasn’t produced an awful lot of hockey players.  Whether he picked it up watching TV or some great young coaches at the bantam level, but he has that hockey IQ that’s so hard to teach, but he’s developed it and he has it, and it’s great that he stays very, very humble.”

Gaudreau will turn 19 in August and is still a good while away from making his NHL debut.  He has the potential to stay at Boston College for another three years, and playing for an extremely successful program can only be good for his development.  York believes Johnny is just scratching the surface of how good an all round player he can be.

“Defense is an area that we’re really trying to stress with him when he doesn’t have the puck, he’s showing some improvement there.  Strength factor, he’s about 150 pounds now, so, he’s been really diligent in trying to bulk up a little more and I think his strength is showing some improvement.”

So to clarify, Gaudreau is a sublimely skilled player with a strong desire to improve.  Sounds to me like the Flames have a quality prospect on their hands.

Bill Arnold

Drafted in the same round one year prior to Gaudreau, Arnold will have a chance to play in his first Frozen Four next week in his second year with the Eagles.  It’s been quite the year the 19 year old sophomore, as he’s helped Boston College become a number one seed and was instrumental in helping them win another prestigious tournament earlier in the season.

The annual Beanpot Tournament has been won 16 times by the Eagles, and it was Arnold’s overtime winner in the final of this year’s 60th running of the tournament that earned them sweet 16.  In front of over 17 thousand fans at TD Garden in Boston, Arnold scored with 6.4 seconds remaining in overtime to stake BC to their third straight Beanpot ripping a shot from the right circle.

Arnold also played a valuable role on Team USA’s World Junior entrant this past December, even though the American squad finished a disappointing seventh.  He’s a completely different prospect as opposed to Eagles teammate Gaudreau, but Head Coach Jerry York knows he’s extremely vital nonetheless.

“This is a big, thick, body, hard on the puck,” York told me on Tuesday.  “He’s very good defensively, he’s going to be a shutdown-type defender, key on face-offs with his strength, and he’s got some offensive skill that is developing and I think he’s going to be able to work on that part of his game.  Right now, he can finish checks, he can really beat you on the defensive side of the puck by playing very smart and very savvy defensively and win a lot of puck battles.”

After putting up 20 points in his freshman year at Boston College, Arnold has taken some huge steps in his second year, upping his point total by 14 while also seeing his workload and responsibilities increased in a large way. 

Officially listed at 5’11 and 210 pounds, Bill is an imposing figure and his hulking frame is something that I’ll always remember when I had an opportunity to meet him in Los Angeles on draft day 2010.  His size allows him to protect the puck very effectively and move it to the most important areas of the ice even when contesting traffic.  While his defensive ability and two way play will always be important, it’s his improved offensive puck moving that has caught York’s eye.

“He’s lost some weight, he’s gained some speed because of the weight loss, he’s developing a little more quickness on the ice and that’s the one area he understands he has to get better at.  He’s just a big, powerful guy that as he trims down and gets a little bit more foot speed, he’s going to be able to get to traffic areas even quicker, because once he’s in the battle, he wins most battles.”

Arnold is dedicated to improving his game and becoming a better player, but he’s also dedicated to the physical conditioning that is so important at the professional level.  I liked his very steady game when watching him in person for the Americans this December, and you can see a lot of traits that could translate very well to higher levels.  His character and drive are good traits regardless, but the fact he’s shown marked improvement in two years at Boston College makes Arnold an even more exciting Calgary prospect.

Early Seasoning

Assistant General Manager John Weisbrod told season ticket holders in January how important a certain type of character is to the Flames organization going forward.  He stressed how important a culture of winning is for players at lower levels as they make their way to the National Hockey League.  I can’t think of very many better ways to instill that type of culture than playing on a national stage for a big time college program, something  both Arnold and Gaudreau will do this coming Thursday.

When talking with Abbotsford Heat Head Coach Troy Ward throughout this season, he’s told me how important a winning atmosphere is for the development of Flames prospects.  For some, that type of surrounding is new upon arriving in the lower mainland.  For Gaudreau and Arnold, it won’t be anything new, and York believes their upcoming Frozen Four experience will only make them better.

“The games are on the bigger stages, there are brighter lights, it really requires you to raise your level of hockey, so, we’ve been fortunate over the last number of years to bring teams deep into tournaments and you’ll really see the improvement next year when they return.”

We won’t be seeing either player in Flames uniforms next year, so tuning into the National Semifinal and (hopefully) National Final will be a great chance to see both players show their stuff this season.  I think you’ll like what you see, and I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about this Boston College duo in the coming years.

Pat Steinberg can be heard on the Big Show weekdays from 1-4 pm and on Overtime after every Flames game on Sportsnet 960 The Fan radio.

Author: Pat Steinberg