It’s rather uncommon to see a 16-year-old defenseman force his way into a top-four role as a rookie on a major junior team. It’s rarer still to have that happen on the league’s top defensive squad in the midst of a record-setting year. But that is exactly what happened with Brandon Gormley and the Moncton Wildcats last season and that is one of the reasons why Gormley is considered a top talent for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Currently in his second year with Moncton, Gormley has been a staple on the Wildcats blue line since he was taken first overall in the 2008 QMJHL Entry Draft. Both Gormley and the Wildcats have followed up on their strong 2008-09 season to find themselves in the QMJHL finals in 2009-10.
A two-way defender, Gormley helps form the core of the Moncton defense along with veterans in David Savard (CLB) and Mark Barberio (TB). Although his entire skill set is noteworthy, it is the way that Gormley approaches the game that gets the most praise from his coach, Danny Flynn.
"He’s a real quality young man, he’s very mature, very humble and very unassuming," said Flynn. "His maturity level is such that some days you think you’re talking to a 30-year-old."
This poise helps Gormley in his own zone, where he is slow to panic and has the hockey sense and the vision to make smart and safe plays even under pressure. His consistency and dependability in his own zone surprised Flynn when Gormley forced his way into a regular role early on last season.
"I’ve always believed that playing as a 16-year-old in this league is a real challenge," Flynn said, "but playing on defense as a regular at 16 is a real tough assignment because of the size and the strength of the older players. You could be 16 years old and you could be playing against a forward who is going to be 21 in January and is almost five full years older than you and that’s a huge gap at a young age. But he came in and we had hoped to play him in probably the five spot, but after about two weeks of preseason, he moved up into the top four and never really left, probably settling in as our number three for most of his 16th year. He just got better and better as the year went along. He had an outstanding playoff and really lifted his game."
Gormley finished his rookie season with seven goals and 27 points in 62 games, including five goals coming with the man advantage. All the while he was playing a regular role on a Moncton team that set a QMJHL record for the least goals-against in one season, allowing just 149 goals.
In the playoffs, Moncton advanced to the second round, before bowing out against the Memorial Cup host Rimouski Oceanic. Over the course of 10 postseason matches, Gormley tallied a goal and had four points.
The strong play continued into the 2009-10 season. The PEI native finished his sophomore campaign with nine goals and 43 points in 58 games, while Moncton finished third in the league and once again was the testament of defensive ability, allowing a league-low 164 goals-against.
With the Moncton Wildcats currently competing in the league finals against the Saint John Sea Dogs, Gormley has taken his game to a whole new level in the playoffs. Over 18 playoff games this season, he has scored twice and has 17 points, placing him third among all QMJHL defensemen.
As his numbers, Gormley is equally adept in both the defensive side of the game as well as offensive situations, moving the puck with ease and cementing himself as a quarterback on the Wildcats power play. According to Flynn, he’s only getting better.
"As he gains experience, his poise with the puck and his skill level continue to get better and better," Flynn said. "He’s a big strong kid and he takes real good care of himself and thus far he’s been able to play a lot of minutes and be remarkably consistent for us."
Listed at 6’2 and 190 lbs, Gormley isn’t particularly noted for his physical play and Flynn noted that one of the main things he needs to work on is getting stronger.
"What he needs is development and to gain experience," Flynn said. "He needs to gain strength, as most junior players do, but his intelligence and his hockey sense and his poise are outstanding, he picks up on things very quickly and makes great decisions under pressure, so there’s no question that he’s going to play in the National Hockey League, probably sooner rather than later, but I think at this point in time, probably gaining hockey strength and gaining experience are the two things that he needs most."
One of the top 1992-born defensemen in the country, Gormley has already caught the attention of Team Canada. Playing at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Under-18 tournament, Gormley was Canada’s top defenseman. That strong play led to an invitation to participate in the 2010 Under-20 selection camp. Although he did not make the final roster, he will be a strong candidate for the World Juniors if he is available next winter.
When asked if Gormley is ready to follow the popular trend of newly drafted players stepping directly into NHL line-ups, Flynn chose his words carefully.
"There were five 18-year-old defensemen in the National Hockey League last year and there’s a number of under-age defensemen playing this year," he said. "Do I think he needs another year of junior hockey? Yes. But given the new NHL and the economics involved, it would not surprise me if he did advance to the National League next year. If you look at a guy like Luke Schenn, who the Leafs rushed and his development is stalled — look at Tyler Myers who was taken 12th overall, who was [Schenn’s] D partner in Kelowna, spent that extra year in Kelowna. I think if you look at those two guys and there’s no question that Myers is ahead of [Schenn] in his development, but I also understand the economics of the National League and the way the National League works and if [Gormley] played in the NHL next year, it would not surprise."
Although Gormley was recognized as a premier talent early on in his hockey career, Flynn was quick to point out that he has dealt with the attention admirably.
"He’s been under the microscope for so long that he’s really done a great job at learning how to control the things that you can control," Flynn said. "His parents are tremendous hockey parents, they’re real laid back, there’s no expectations or pressures put on him at home. They’ve taken it all in stride and not get overwhelmed by it and I think there’s been a carryover effect for him.
"Is he excited about the NHL draft? I’m sure he is," Flynn said. "He’s sacrificed a lot of his life to get to the National Hockey League. But he does a great job of keeping things in perspective. He wasn’t overwhelmed with being the first overall pick in the Midget draft and I don’t think the thought of the upcoming NHL draft has affected him at all. He’s learned a long time ago to park all that stuff, play your game and everything will sort itself out."
No matter what his future holds, Gormley is widely regarded as not only the top QMJHL player eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry draft, but also one of the top defensemen overall and seems destined to hear his name called early in the first round on June 25th.