Under the tenure of now-former general manager Darryl Sutter, the Calgary Flames were known for many things. They are best remembered for their miracle 2004 Stanley Cup Finals run, but the team was also known for being predominantly big, burly, western Canadians. With Jay Feaster now running the show in Calgary, there was some speculation that the team would go in another direction.
That speculation proved to be spot-on, as the team acquired several smaller, skilled players during the weekend of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Included in that list are Swiss forward Sven Baertschi (who signed an entry-level deal with Calgary on Tuesday afternoon), as well as forwards Paul Byron and John Gaudreau. None of these trio are big, burly or western Canadian. In fact, they may be just the opposite. And that’s exactly what the Flames may have been looking for.
Originally from Ottawa and a product of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Paul Byron’s height is listed at 5-foot-10 by the NHL and 5-foot-9 by the Internet Hockey Database. While the truth likely lies somewhere in between, Byron is one of the smaller players in the Flames organization. A key component of the trade that sent Robyn Regehr to Buffalo at the draft, he noted that the trade caught him a bit off-guard.
“It’s definitely surprising,” said Byron. “I didn’t see the trade coming at all. It’s also really flattering… It’s always a positive feeling when another organization wants you and wants to trade for you.”
Less than 24 hours after Byron was acquired from the Sabres, the Flames went to the podium and drafted another small player. Selected 104th overall, John Gaudreau spent the last season with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints and despite his 5-foot-6 stature, excelled. He racked up 72 points in just 60 games and added 11 points in just as many playoff games. After his efforts earned him both a league championship and honours as the USHL’s best rookie, Gaudreau noted it felt to prove his doubters wrong.
“People said I couldn’t make it in the USHL,” said Gaudreau, adding that people frequently bring up his size as an obstacle. “It’s happened a lot. I just try to push through it and use it as motivation to try to prove them wrong. Hopefully I can keep proving people wrong.”
When asked if the Flames’ acquisition of himself and Gaudreau over draft weekend indicated a change in mentality in the organization, he elaborated that opportunities for smaller players have been cropping up throughout the hockey world.
“The mentalities are really starting to change between the organizations and coaches,” said Byron. “And they’re starting to see that it’s not how big you are, but it’s how you’re competing out there and you see that a lot in the smaller guys. They’re competing the hardest out there, and that’s what you need to win.”
Despite being four years older than Gaudreau, Byron noted that their sizes and mutual introduction to the Flames gives them something in common. Having been told the same things when he was younger about his size preventing him from making the big leagues, Byron has successfully worked through the obstacles and stands primed to contend for a spot with the Flames in the fall after making his NHL debut with Buffalo last season.
“We’re both kind of in the same boat,” said Byron. “It almost feels like my first camp, too. I was a little shy and nervous coming here and I see a lot of similarities between me and him. He’ll grow. He’ll get bigger and stronger and he’ll learn that you’ve got to use your body in different ways, corners and the game changes as you get to a higher level. I’m pretty confident that he’ll be a good player.”
John Gaudreau expects to play at Northeastern University in the fall. Calgary Flames development camp continues until Friday at Don Hartman North East Sportsplex.