It’s part of our job as a coaching staff that we monitor his practice days, not that he’s showing any signs of weaknesses, but we all know it’s a long marathon, especially in our situation right now with the standings. - Bob Hartley
CALGARY, AB -- Rookies typically don’t get to take the option. Johnny Gaudreau wasn’t given one.
The 21-year-old was told straight up to stay off the ice as 15 teammates skated in a light practice at Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday.
It’s all about pace.
“I sat with him and I explained to him why, that his college season is already past him,” coach Bob Hartley said. “It’s important. It’s part of our job as a coaching staff to make sure that we monitor his practice days, not that he’s showing any signs of weaknesses, but we all know it’s a long marathon, especially in our situation right now with the standings.
“It’s important that we maximize Johnny’s energy for the benefit of the hockey club.”
Tallying his regular season and Frozen Four with Boston College, his NHL debut with the Flames and World Championship efforts as a member of Team USA, Gaudreau skated in a total of 49 games in 2013-14. Set for his 40th regular season skate to add to the three in Penticton at the YoungStars Classic and six exhibition spins, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound winger is at that mark.
It can be a grind, that jump from the college ranks to pro hockey.
Take it from those who know.
“Our young guys have stepped in and done real well but this is kind of where you see the grind start to set in a little bit,” said Joe Colborne, who played 79 games over two seasons with the University of Denver from 2008-10 before making the jump to pro hockey in the Boston Bruins organization.
“It’s tough. It’s a mental grind too. They’re used to playing one game and then getting a big break. You’re always coming in fresh, whereas sometimes your body is broken down already and you have to mentally get yourself up and ready to play. That was the biggest adjustment for me.
“It’s good to get a guy like Johnny, who hasn’t been through it before, get a day to recover and let his body continue to adapt. The way he approaches it, his game and his preparation, is actually pretty impressive. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Josh Jooris made a similar jump last season.
The 24-year-old left Union College after three seasons to sign with Calgary and logged 73 games with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. His final two years at the college level saw Jooris skate in 78 combined games.
It’s not an easy transition.
“I was fortunate enough to get a full pro season under me being a college kid last year,” Jooris said. “I noticed it big time last year. It’s definitely a grind…even more so here (in Calgary). It’s amped up that much more at the NHL level.”
Gaudreau, tied for the team-lead with 13 goals and third in points with 31, didn’t get the same stint in the minors that Jooris did. After a bit of a slow start, he’s not seeing the bottom pairing of the oppositions defence anymore, either.
The NHL’s rookie of the month for December is now in the territory of being keyed in on by the opposition and seeing the marquee matchups.
It’s important, Hartley admitted, that Gaudreau be paced appropriately.
“I don’t need to be a little bird on a branch in their dressing room to assume that Johnny’s name is well up on the board and making sure that you don’t give him time; you don’t give him space,” Hartley said. “People will start paying attention. It’s a huge difference playing against a 5-6 defenseman and playing against a 1-2.
“There’s always that transition period for any college player. Especially Johnny. He’s not a big body. How we’re going to manage him, how he’s going to manage himself off the ice is going to be very important.”