I feel more confident and I feel like I’ve had the puck a lot more on my stick, which helps. - Jiri Hudler
CALGARY, AB -- Coming off the 2014-15 campaign, expectations were understandably high for Jiri Hudler heading into this season.
He had set new career-highs in goals (31), assists (45), points (76), and his plus-17 rating was the best he had achieved in his NHL career.
He led the Flames in scoring, played a big role in the development of his young linemates, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and became the first Czech player to capture the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."
Suffice to say, it was quite the year for Hudler.
He started this season off by scoring two goals and four points in the Flames opening three games and has amassed a respectable seven goals and 28 points in 44 skates, averaging 0.64 points-per-game.
But there has been stretches this year where he has struggled, failing to generate scoring chances like he has in seasons past and looking a half step behind the play.
"I don’t think about it like that," he said when asked about his mindset during rough patches throughout the year. "I’m thinking about getting back in that form again. So I do whatever it takes.
"For me, the points are obviously … if I put up the points, we have a better chance to win, but I know some games I have no points and I’m happy about the way I played, I competed."
But things have tuned around for the veteran as of late.
Hudler has six points in his last six games and looks refreshed, back on a line with Gaudreau and Monahan. His playmaking abilities have been back on display on a regular basis and he's been producing plenty of chances even-strength and on the power play.
Case in point is his assist in Vancouver on Saturday night. Spotting Monahan streaking through the slot, he was able to get a perfect pass off his stick before Chris Tanev took him hard into the boards behind the net.
"I feel more confident and I feel like I’ve had the puck a lot more on my stick, which helps. Every game, I feel like I have the puck more and more. That’s a big key for me."
Hudler's resurgence comes at a time when he has more distractions off the ice. The impending free agent, who admitted he hasn't had contract talks with the team yet, has seen his name pop up in trade talk as the deadline approaches. In this day and age, it is almost impossible to ignore chatter like that but Hudler hasn't let it affect him on the ice.
"A lot of people say no but I think it’s a lie. You think about it," he said. "You think about your future. You’re thinking about where you’re going to be. But it shouldn’t bother me on the ice because when you start, when you put your gear on, you should be all hockey. Focused on the wins, goals, defence, and stuff like that.
"I like Calgary. That’s the thing. We’ll see how it works out."