The accolades keep piling up for South Jersey’s rising star, the man they call “Johnny Hockey.”
Johnny Gaudreau, 21, thought long and hard last year at this time about whether he should return to Boston College for his final season or turn pro.
Last year, he was named the Hoby Baker Award winner, as the best college player in the nation. He ultimately chose to graduate to the NHL and Thursday, after his first full season with the Calgary Flames, he was one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s best rookie.
The others were Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone and Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
“I played with a lot of really talented players in this locker room and that really helped me,” Gaudreau told reporters in VancouverThursday before Game 4 of a first-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. “I’m very honored to be nominated.”
He finished the regular season with 24 goals and 40 assists, good enough for second on the Flames roster in points and tying him with Stone for tops among rookies with 64 points.
Gaudreau, who was a 2011 fourth-round draft pick of Calgary, was tops among rookie forwards in average ice time per game (17:43) and power-play goals (eight). He has emerged as one of the faces of the league in terms of young talent. He was selected to the All-Star Game this season, originally just to take part in the skills competition, but also filled the void when Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby opted out.
“As a parent you look at it and it’s hard to believe that’s my son,” said Guy Gaudreau last month, Johnny’s father and hockey director at Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell. “We raised him to play hockey, have hockey, enjoy hockey and I know how hard it is to get to that level. People don’t realize how hard it is. You have to have breaks. You have to have coaches that like you.”
Bob Hartley does.
The Flames coach has relied heavily on the rookie. Gaudreau notched a hat trick on Dec. 22, making him the youngest Flames player to do it since Joe Nieuwendyk did it Dec. 28, 1987, six years before Gaudreau was born.
“He’s been great,” Hartley said last month when the Flames visited Philadelphia. “He’s really learning to be a great pro. It’s just the process he needs to go through, but he’s been going through with flying colors.”
For Gaudreau to be named a finalist means a little more this season than in years past.
It was an excellent rookie crop for the NHL this season. The talent was so high that Nashville’s Filip Forsberg, who finished one point shy of Stone and Gaudreau even though he led rookies in scoring for most of the season, was not one of the three finalists. Others that would have been strong contenders were Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman and Dallas defenseman John Klingberg.
The Calder winner will be announced at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 24.
Dave Isaac; (856) 486-2479; firstname.lastname@example.org.