NASHVILLE, TN -- It's a different feeling this time around for Johnny Gaudreau
Gaudreau landed in Nashville Thursday night, and is set to take in the sights and sounds of Nashville and suit up for the NHL All-Star Game for the second straight year.
The dynamic forward has vaulted himself among the elite skaters in the NHL in just one calendar year. The second-year Flames forward has put up 47 points in 48 tilts this season is tied for 10th in league scoring with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin.
"It’s crazy when you think about it, Gaudreau smiled, while fielding questions from the media masses at Bridgestone Arena on Friday. "It’s hard to believe that I do the things I do sometimes. I’m really fortunate to play with a lot of great players and good coaches that really helped me out and now I’m here. It’s really amazing."
Although the 22-year-old, who was skating in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints just four years ago, is now considered one of the game's top talents, he still finds himself starstruck from time to time when he rubs shoulders with likes of Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos and others.
It's hard for him to believe sometimes.
"Last year I was still – and I think even this year a bit – I’m like, wow," Gaudreau admitted. "Some of the players that are here I was watching them four or five years ago. I’m just a younger guy and I get to be a part of this weekend again. Last year it was a lot of fun and it’s really cool to be a part of it this year too."
Just a few months into his rookie season last year with the Flames, Gaudreau was told to find a permanent home in Calgary. He was a full-time NHL player. His lifelong dream was fulfilled. Before he could take a breath he was skating alongside the game's brightest starts in the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus.
This time, he can appreciate it a little more.
"I think last year it all happened so quick," recalled Gaudreau. "I think I’m enjoying it a little more [this year], taking it all in. My family wasn’t able to come at all last year and my parents will be here this year. It’s different, for sure. I’m taking it all in and enjoying it more for sure."
It's a family affair this year in Nashville with Gaudreau being accompanied by his parents, his two sisters, brother-in-law, and niece.
"It’s cool. You don’t get much time during the season to see family, other than the rare times they come out and visit you or when you get near your hometown you get to see them. It’s a good little break to enjoy the All Star Game and weekend and be a part of it with your family."
As for the location, it couldn't be better for the Gaudreau clan.
All fans of the hit television show "Nashville", the Gaudreau's are hoping to visit the world-famous Bluebird Cafe, often featured on the show and a breeding ground for discovering country music songwriters and performers in Nashville.
"My whole family, they all watch the show too and we’ve always talked about it," Gaudreau said. "Now that the All Star Game is in Nashville, we had our group text and I was saying how excited we are to go to Nashville and hopefully we get to go [to the Bluebird]. I might take them there Saturday if we have time and hopefully I get to check it out."
A big country music fan, Gaudreau plans to take in as much live music as possible this weekend and soak in as much of the Nashville experience as possible.
"I think it’s probably one of my favourite cities. The Country Music, the fans… it’s a good city to play in, Gaudreau said. "In the summer time I have a whole bunch of buddies and we go to concerts like Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan. If there is a country singer performing and we’re close, we are probably going to go. I have a lot of favourites and they do a good job. It’s fun to go to the concerts and I really enjoy them."