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Gaudreau finding his groove

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames



CALGARY, AB
-- Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is growing increasingly more comfortable in the NHL.

But the 22-year-old isn't comfortable enough with being considered a budding superstar just yet.

"I don't think that. … I wouldn't name myself that," Gaudreau said. "It's great. I think I've gotten off to a great start to my career here. Hopefully I can keep that going, keep improving, keep getting better. Hopefully it's just the start. Hopefully someday people can use that name as a reference, but right now I think I'm just playing well and I've got to keep it going."

Gaudreau hasn't shown signs of doing otherwise.

With 24 goals, he's matched his total through 80 games as a rookie with the Flames last season. Gaudreau, also two points shy of the 64 he had in 2014-15, and the Flames visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday (5 p.m. MT; SNW) in a homecoming of sorts.

Last season's totals helped earn the Salem, N.J., native a nod as a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

This season's totals lead the Flames.

"I think last year, towards the end of the season I hit my groove and felt like I belong in this League," said Gaudreau, who is sixth in the NHL scoring with 62 points in 60 games. "Thankfully this year I got off to a good start. I've just been keeping it rolling, trying to keep playing as well as much as I can, help the team win.

"I think it was just adapting to the League, learning the ins and outs and learning the defensive part of the game. It's so crucial in this League. When you get your offensive chances you have to try to find the net because you don't get many. As I've learned that kind of stuff, I've just kept playing better and better. I think I've adapted to that."

His coach can attest to that.

"The one thing that organizations or coaches want from players is to know game-in, game-out what are you going to get from the player," coach Bob Hartley said. "Sometimes it's not only about production. Production, you can control it at a certain point. There's another team that has the same goal as you and there's goalies who can make big saves. Johnny is a competitor. He wants to play. He wants to be on the ice in key situations. He's a gamer. You can't teach this."

Historically, Gaudreau has had that about him and has always shown constant progression.

At the under-16 level with the Philadelphia Little Flyers of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League, Gaudreau scored 16 goals and 45 points in 30 games. The next year, graduating to the under-18 ranks with Team Comcast in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, he had 29 goals and 29 assists in 48 games. In the same year with Gloucester Catholic High School, who retired his No. 3 jersey last spring, Gaudreau added another 48 points in 14 games.

With Dubuque of the United States Hockey League in 2010-11, Gaudreau scored 36 goals and was named the league's top rookie.

Three years at Boston College provided a similar theme.

As a freshman, Gaudreau had 21 goals and 44 points in 44 games. He was named to Hockey East's All-Rookie Team. As a sophomore, he had 21 goals and 51 points in 35 games, made Hockey East's First All-American Team, First Team All-Star, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. As a junior, his final season before signing with the Flames, Gaudreau had 36 goals and 80 points in 40 games, and was named to Hockey East's First All-American Team, Player of the Year, and received the Hobey Baker.

He's continued that growth while in the NHL, and other teams have taken notice.

"He knows that he's getting attention from other teams and rightfully so," Hartley said. "You earn this. All the great players -- the Lemieuxs, the Gretzkys, Crosby & Co. in the new era. Once you get a status, it's because you earn it. It's because coaches from the other team, players from the other team, they notice that you can be a difference maker in any game. They want to shut you out."

It's not all they want out of Gaudreau. With his status rising as one of the game's most dynamic young talents, there are other requests, too.

"Every once in a while another team's equipment manager will come in and ask me to sign something," he said. "It happens every once in a while. I'm sure it'll happen. It won't be the first or the last time it happens. It's cool to have that experience."

Gaudreau, who has assists in seven straight games, will add another experience Monday. He'll return to Wells Fargo Center, a 40-minute drive from his hometown, to play for the second time as a professional.

"It's exciting. You get to go home and not only play in front of your family and friends but people you grew up with, people you might not know as much," Gaudreau said. "You went to school with a lot of kids in that area and they get to come to games. It's cool for me.

"I just try to play as hard as I can and show them how interesting it is for a guy that grew up with them to play in this League."

Gaudreau is reaching star status in Calgary and a little closer to home.

"It's getting bigger," he said. "My hometown is really, really small. There are only a few people in my hometown. It's getting big in South Jersey. There are lots of Flames fans in South Jersey you wouldn't normally see.

"It's exciting for me."

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