The big man plays well and works hard for the Winter Hawks
With each additional pound, inch, goal, pass, check, fight, sunrise and sunset, Paul Gaustad's financial future becomes brighter.
'He's having a great year,' says agent Carlos Sosa, whose client has 30 goals and 37 assists as captain in his third year with the Portland Winter Hawks.
'His progressions, given his statistics, are everything you'd want from a player,' Sosa says. 'He's a big man, and he's grown since he's been here. He's getting an opportunity to score and is capitalizing. He's good on face-offs. All that puts him into position to be attractive to an NHL team.'
Many thought the Buffalo Sabres made a steal when they picked Gaustad in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL draft. The Winter Hawks, primarily General Manager Ken Hodge, say the steal could be of grand larceny proportions.
Sosa, who represents NHL players such as Darcy Tucker and Scott Parker, agrees to this extent: 'We're not looking to sign for seventh-round money, that's for sure.
'Anything is possible, given this particular player.'
Former eighth-rounder Andrew Ference bought a Harley-Davidson with his signing bonus. Fourth-rounder Joey Tetarenko bought a Mustang and pocketed a six-figure bonus. Gaustad's teammate, sixth-rounder Josh Olson, invested his six figures.
Coach Mike Williamson guesses that Gaustad will be worth 'third round' money, so he probably will sign for a similar, six-figure bonus and, if and when he makes the NHL team, draw close to $400,000 per season in a three-year deal.
'If (Buffalo) didn't sign him, I'd be really surprised,' Sosa says. 'We've had preliminary discussions. They have to decide by June 1, or he'll go back into the draft.'
Jim Benning, Buffalo's chief scout, chuckled when told of Sosa's comments.
'I figured that,' he says. 'It's not where you get drafted but how you perform the next two years. From there, (Gaustad) has taken off. Such passion for the game. I've already recommended we try to get him signed.'
Hodge points to Gaustad, who lives in Beaverton, as the epitome of the junior hockey player, a 19-year-old who won't stop till he reaches his goals.
'Through his career in Portland,' Hodge says, 'he's shown the best improvement of any player ever in our organization. He's pushing 6-5, and he's a physical force on the ice Ñ plus, he's so concerned about his teammates. I wish everybody on our team could learn from him, the purpose he plays with.'
Williamson compares Gaustad's work ethic and desire to those of Adam Deadmarsh and Brenden Morrow, NHL first-rounders who have played on Stanley Cup championship teams.
'I think he'll make it to the NHL,' Williamson says of Gaustad. 'He has too much character to be held back.'
Gaustad appreciates the plaudits, but, as captain, more concerns him than simply signing an NHL contract. The Winter Hawks, after all, have not been the most stable team in the Western Hockey League, what with Hodge shipping five veterans out of town and placing much of the leadership on Gaustad's shoulders.
While the Hawks were losing six consecutive games, Gaustad assured everyone that Hodge's trade of two defensemen (Jesse Ferguson and Kevin Young) for one (Richie Regehr) made sense. That is the kind of leadership captains are supposed to show, and Gaustad should have 'Company Man' stitched on his jersey. The Hawks have promoted him as their poster boy.
'It was an honor to be chosen as captain, but we have a lot of leaders on this team,' Gaustad says. 'It's definitely more responsibility, but I like that. I play better with it.'
Teamed with hotshot Jozef Balej most of the year, Gaustad has easily eclipsed last year's scoring stats, virtually picking up where he left off in the 2001 playoffs. He led the Winter Hawks with 10 goals and six assists in the playoffs, the time when grinders such as he usually shine.
But Gaustad has revealed a lasting scoring and passing touch to complement his rugged playing style (he leads the Winter Hawks with 161 penalty minutes).
'I close my eyes and shoot now,' he jokes.
Gaustad, who targets skating as his primary area for improvement, has added 15 pounds to his frame and now weighs 215 pounds. He stands 6-5 Ñ three seasons ago, he came in at barely 6-2. Nothing impresses NHL brass like size, skill and desire. His NHL playing weight will be 230.
The growth spurt came unexpectedly. Gaustad's marked improvement also has been surprising.
'It's a credit to Buffalo and guys like Jim Benning,' Sosa says. 'They saw something in this raw kid (when they picked him), and what he could be.'
Gaustad, who moved to Beaverton from North Dakota, gave up the pursuit of college hockey for the WHL, which features rough NHL-style hockey and rules. No regrets, he says: 'I'm having the time of my life.'