Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When the Delaware Valley last saw John Gaudreau of Carneys Point, New Jersey, he represented Boston College in the early national semifinal against Union in the 2014 Frozen Four which took place last April.
He was fresh off an eight-point performance in a two-game NCAA regional, the prohibitive favorite to be voted the top player in all of college hockey, and soon to record a goal and two assists in his final collegiate contest, a 5-4 loss to eventual champion Dutchmen.
On Tuesday night, he stepped onto the ice at Wells Fargo Center for the Calgary Flames against his hometown Philadelphia Flyers. He did so as a Calder Trophy candidate, with his number retired by alma mater Gloucester Catholic a day earlier.
He's also trailing behind him a cute little nickname -- that started as a harmless on-campus thing -- which he's decided to file for a trademark, a la current Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
"I'd trademark it if I were him, too. When everyone's calling you something, somebody's going to use it for their benefit," said Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds.
Gaudreau, the 5-foot-9, 155-pound forward has encountered a large dose of success less than a year into his professional career. The soon-to-be 22-year- old should be wise not to let "Johnny Hockey" (TM pending) ever get the best of him.
Business is business, and in the league's attempt to sell the game and its dynamic players, you have to engage in a little cult of personality -- let something splashy speak for you when you're operating several inches shorter and more than two dozen pounds lighter than the NHL's average player.
It's easier when you're coming in hot, torching any and all outside expectations which come with small stature and a fourth-round selection.
Gaudreau hit southern Alberta last spring as the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, and scored in his first NHL game on his very first shot.
In his first full campaign for a Flames club angling for playoff position thanks to an infusion of youth, he ranks second to Nashville's Filip Forsberg in points for all rookies (44) and is tied for fourth in goals (15) by freshmen. He also gained a bit of fame (or infamy depending on your perspective) at the All-Star Game for being Jake Voracek's shooting proxy.
Even to be considered for the Calder and potentially breaking the chain of a long line of Hobey hopefuls who flickered out once they reached The Show, it could cause a little bit of an identity crisis for those not ready to handle the responsibility.
A homecoming is always good for proper perspective.
At Gloucester Catholic, the Rams uniform suspiciously looks a lot like his Boston College duds, down to the color scheme, piping and trim. Gaudreau played three years there, under his father Guy, before departing for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League. After honoring him on Monday, no one will wear his No. 3 again.
"It was exciting for me, to head back to my old high school, to see a ton of teachers who really helped me improve in the school aspect of things. I would have never gotten to BC and done as well at BC if it weren't for a ton of help from people at that school. I'm fortunate and very honored to be a part of something special like that."
Another good thing to provide some grounding is a scoring slump.
Until his secondary assist on Jiri Hudler's game-winner in overtime, Gaudreau failed to register a point in three straight games, his longest drought since opening the year pointless in five. He also hasn't scored since a two-goal effort on Jan. 27 against Buffalo, a span which reached 15 games.
Cue the perfunctory questions about the length of a college season against the six-month slog in the NHL, but Gaudreau's got a good grip on where he stands.
"It's definitely more of an adjustment, going from a 40-game season to an 80- game schedule and it's something I need to learn throughout my career," Gaudreau said following a morning practice session.
That schedule has been incredibly providential this week.
In addition to returning to Philadelphia, Gaudreau's next stop on Calgary's road trip just so happens to be on Thursday, when the speedy winger returns to his adopted home of Boston for the very first time as a pro. It's nothing short of a crash course in front of the cameras and learning how to operate in tight spaces when everyone wants a piece of the action.
"Yeah that's a little bit of a change, the media. There's a lot more than I'm used to," he said after the Flames' 3-2 overtime decision. "You know I get to see a ton of friends and family and it's an exhausting trip but at the same time it's something I try to take all in."
The nostalgia's going to wear off, though, and pretty quickly as the Flames are trying to lock up a playoff berth over the final 19 games. That's the business to which John Gaudreau the hockey player should be tending, and not some vague notions of cashing in on a manufactured persona.
How he balances team success with personal recognition will determine just how far another in a long line of Jerry York-coached champions can hold up in the North American pressure cooker.