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Gaudreau impresses in sophomore season

by Jason Pirie / Calgary Flames

He’s such a competitor. For everything that he has won and accomplished, it’s never about him. He’s not selfish. He’s a team guy that was well-raised and well-coached, and that’s what makes Johnny Gaudreau so special.Bob Hartley

CALGARY, AB -- There has been plenty of jaw-dropping going on at Scotiabank Saddledome ever since a fella by the name of Johnny Hockey burst onto the scene.

Following a 64-point rookie campaign that earned the Salem, NJ native a well-deserved Calder Memorial Trophy nomination, Johnny Gaudreau silenced any doubt of a sophomore jinx by surpassing expectations this season.

Nothing new for the 5-foot-9, 157-pound stickhandling wizard, who has had to prove cynics wrong his entire hockey playing life.

The little engine that could just kept chug-chug-chuggin’ along this season, topping the Flames with 30 goals and 78 points.

In fact, only Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and Erik Karlsson produced better numbers than the dynamic 22-year-old left wing.

“I pride myself on being an offensive guy,” said Gaudreau, who also racked up a league-high eight multi-goal games and a team-best 20 multi-point outings. “Being in my second year here, just learning about being in the league and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable on the ice. There is still a lot to learn, I’m still a younger guy, but I’m excited about the future.”

And so should Flames fans.

“The young guys in this locker room, we get to learn from Matt Stajan and Mark Giordano, guys like that,” said Gaudreau, who will team up with Flames linemate Sean Monahan on Team North America at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. “It’s only going to help us in the long run and in the future. We will learn from this season, and learn from the leaders in this locker room, and try to get better every single season.

“It’s difficult to make the playoffs with how good the players are in this league and how good the teams are. It’s not fun not being in the playoffs, but like Staj said, I’ve got to learn from this and, being a younger guy, I’m sure I’ll have many more years to hopefully be in the playoffs.”

Though it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for this year’s Flames troop, Gaudreau did offer his own assessment.

“I think last year all of our late comebacks were incredible, but it’s hard to do that in this league with the talent that teams have and the defensive guys teams have,” he said. “I think we have to play with the lead a little bit more and try to protect the lead rather than coming back in games every night.”

That starts by improving as a unit without the puck, according to the two-time NHL All-Star.

“There are a lot of guys, including myself, that have to help our goaltenders out a little more,” Gaudreau said. “I think the defensive zone is so important in this game right now. Even though I pride myself on being an offensive guy, I definitely need to be better defensively. And then offensively try to score some big goals at big times and help this team win.”

Particularly while away from the welcoming confines of the ‘Dome.

While they boasted a 21-16-4 record on home ice, the Flames finished a paltry 14-24-3 on the road.

It’s no coincidence that Gaudreau’s home and away stats mirror his team’s records. The winger amassed 23 goals, 56 points and a plus-21 rating in front of the 'C of Red' while notching only seven goals, 22 points and a minus-17 rating on the road.

“The teams put their top defencemen out against me and Sean, so I think as younger guys we need to learn to play better against those top guys and try to produce offensively because we are relied on to do that,” Gaudreau said. “I think we just need to play harder against those top defencemen. They’re strong, they’re physical and they are skilled as well. Me and Sean, as younger guys, I think that’s something that we learned this season.”

A season that began with an abundance of hope and promise but ended in disappointment.

“As a team it’s not where we want to be at,” said Gaudreau, who announced he will hit the books this off-season as a student at Boston College after promising his mom he would finish his degree. “It was a tough season, but we have a young team and this is a learning experience for us.

“I think this might be the first time I’ve ever not been in a post-season. It’s frustrating for me and I’m sure it’s frustrating for a lot of guys.”

Flames coach Bob Hartley -- the only professional bench boss Gaudreau has ever known -- understands his top offensive weapon’s dissatisfaction.

“He’s such a competitor,” Hartley said. “For everything that he has won and accomplished, it’s never about him. He’s not selfish. He’s a team guy that was well-raised and well-coached, and that’s what makes Johnny Gaudreau so special.”

As a restricted free agent, Gaudreau said he’s not concerned with the negotiations of a new contract and is confident his agent and Flames general manager Brad Treliving will work it out.

“I love the city of Calgary,” Gaudreau said. “I love the coaches and management here. I love the players in this locker room. I think we have a great group of guys and I can see myself playing here for a long time.”

That would suggest there’s a lot more jaw-dropping to come.

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