The Prince Albert Raiders forward hit the ground running this year by scoring at over a point-per game pace with 19 goals and 34 points in 27 contests at the Christmas break.
“It was great to get off to a good start like that,” says Gardiner, who turned 18 in January. “I went into the season determined to improve on what I did the year before (seven goals, 20 points in 54 games). And the puck was bouncing my way and plays were just coming together.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Gardiner, however, notably slowed down in the latter half of the season. His three goals and 10 points in 33 matches saw his point production drop from 1.26 points per game to only 0.30.
“I’m not really sure what was going wrong,” says Gardiner. “It was frustrating a bit because the puck wasn’t bouncing my way. I don’t really think I cooled off, but things weren’t going my way. Players go through that, but it’s never fun, especially in your draft year.”
In spite of his drop off in production, Gardiner’s draft status did not diminish in some scouts' eyes. In fact, his ranking rose 11 spots from 40th to 29th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service. This was a “confidence boost” for Gardiner, who at the time was disappointed with how his season ended.
“It was a confidence boost,” he says. “I was surprised that I went up like that because of my points. It was a pretty exciting time for my family; they were all happy that I went up like that. And it’s always cool to get noticed like that by scouts.”
Among Gardiner’s enticing attributes, his hockey IQ and strong two-way game seem to stand out the most. The Humboldt, Sask., native has made a reputation for having a knack for reading and reacting to plays well while playing a 200-foot game.
“I think it (hockey IQ) is my best strength,” says Gardiner, whose younger brother, Erik Gardiner, was recently drafted by the Regina Pats. “I feel I’m a smart player that can read plays and knows where to go at the right time. It really helps me make good plays. And I think it's important to be good in your own end. I try to work hard to get back and stop other teams from getting offensive chances.”
Gardiner, of course, isn’t the Raiders’ only highly regarded draft prospect. German sensation Leon Draisaitl, who’s regarded as a top-five prospect, commanded the majority of the draft spotlight this year. This seems to have worked to Gardiner’s benefit, though, as he learned from Draisaitl and somewhat had less pressure on his shoulders.
“It was great to play with him and learn from Leon,” says Gardiner. “He’s really focused and pays a lot of attention to the little things. I learned a lot from him on how to stay focused. And yeah, most of the focus was on him, so that may have helped a bit on just focusing on playing and not getting caught up in the NHL draft stuff.”
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I’m a two-way player who creates chances in the offensive zone. I like setting up plays and starting rushes. I also take pride in working hard and putting in everything I got on the ice.”
2. Do you model your game after an NHL player?
“I like how (Montreal Canadiens wing and Vancouver Giants alumnus) Brendan Gallagher plays. He has a lot of skill and has become a pretty good player because he doesn’t back down and works hard. He’s also fun to watch because he gets other guys off their games.”
3. Who’s your favourite NHL team?
“I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. They’re the team I grew up cheering for and haven’t stopped.”
4. What’s your favourite movie or TV show?
“I like comedies, so East Bound and Down and Happy Gilmore are my favourite movies. They are pretty funny; I always get a laugh out of them.”
5. What type of music do you like to listen to before game?
“I’m really easy going. Whatever is on works for me. I don’t really have a favourite band or type of music.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen
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