1. Glenn Gawdin
From unsigned to unstoppable, Glenn Gawdin has come a long way.
The second-year pro is enjoying a breakout campaign, entering the week of the AHL's All-Star Classic - an event in which the Richmond, B.C., native will participate - in the top 10 in league scoring with 38 points.
Gawdin has already matched his scoring output from his rookie run and bested his goal total by a pair. Consistency has been the key - it took until Jan. 8 for him to go two consecutive games without a point.
"As a rookie you just want to establish yourself, prove to yourself and to the coaches what you're all about," said the 22-year-old, fresh off a two-point performance Monday against Colorado. "Coming into this year, I wanted a bigger role and to take a step forward."
If his sophomore bump has been one step, we can only imagine what the next stride will look like.
While his game continues to develop and he continues to progress toward the ultimate goal of becoming an everday NHLer, Gawdin maintains the same shift-by-shift, game-by-game mentality.
His steadfast mindset comes from the adversity he has faced.
A decorated player with the Swift Current Broncos, Gawdin was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the fourth round, 116th overall, in 2015. Sights set on St. Louis, that contract never came.
On Nov. 16, 2017, Gawdin inked a three-year deal entry-level with the Flames, a chance to prove himself in an organization that was deep down the middle but open to competition and with a clear plan for development that was the main selling point.
"It's hard not to doubt yourself (after going unsigned)," he said. "It was disappointing not being signed by (St. Louis). At the time, I had people telling me it was for the best, that coming back as an 'overage' you'd have opportunities. It didn't seem like it at that time. A team just told me they didn't want me. It gave me a chip on my shoulder trying to prove them wrong, and everyone who passed over me in the draft, and it's stuck with me forever.
"Looking back, it was probably for the best."
Glenn Gawdin has been so hot this season, can't fault the guy for trying to cool down. (Photo courtesy of Heat)
His first year as a pro was up-and-down, and Gawdin is the first to say it. The highs were high - four goals in his first seven pro games, a strong January with nine points in 11 games and six goals in the final six games of the season. The lows were there, too, though fewer and further between.
Year two has been much more mountain than valley.
"Last year he earned a lot of trust," said Heat coach Cail MacLean, about what's allowed Gawdin to seize a prominent role on the roster. "That was impressive to me, for someone at that age to play with the responsibility that he did. This year, he's challenged himself and tried to push to maintain that level of responsibility and find a way to keep doing it and produce offensively."
Gawdin has been joined by his roommate Matthew Phillips in having a breakout sophomore campaign, the two largely feeding off each other and pushing one another. The dynamic duo had come into the league together, grown together, even were named AHL All-Stars together. The one difference - Phillips got the NHL call first.
"I noticed the way (Phillips) came back, the confidence he had," said Gawdin. "You could tell right away. He earned that call-up, he came back and was at the top of his game. That's something for everyone, something I took away - when you're playing your best is when you're confident."
Of course, it's easy to be confident when you're putting up the numbers that Gawdin has this season. The test for the centre came just after the new year, a five-game dry spell that was frustrating to a young player trying to earn his shot at the show.
He has since broken out - three points in three games - but it's that experience, says the bench boss, that could prove valuable well past the near future.
"When you're in a position like Glenn was in and you run into a dry spell like that, you press. He pressed, and I think he's learned from it. That's one of his great attributes is he learns well. He's very coachable, from others and from himself. He learned to manage the pressure and get back to the things that are process-oriented. It took a while for it to pop, but he's come out of it. It's good adversity for him, and he's come out the side better for it."
Gawdin celebrating a goal with Sean Monahan during Flames pre-season action. (Photo by Gerry Thomas)
Gawdin has earned praise for his play this season, deservedly named among the top NHL prospects in the Western Conference. Combine that with a strong showing at Calgary's rookie camp and a first-hand knowledge through his rooming accommodations that playing the right way could lead to his number being called next, the second-year standout knows the task ahead of him - keep playing the right way, putting up numbers and push himself over the hump to earn the right to wear the flaming C.
Fortunately, he had no All-Star Break plans coming into the year - and he kept his dance card empty following his fast start. A trip south to Ontario, Calif., awaits for what promises to be a memorable experience for him, a weekend for him to 'take it all in' as he skates alongside some of the league's best players.
Longer term, he looks to go north, to the Scotiabank Saddledome.
"You're trying to impress," said Gawdin. "If you're here, you're here for a reason. You need to improve all aspects of your game to get up there. We have a good staff, good coaches, they're there for whatever we need.
"Being here and doing well, just have to put in the work and good things will happen."