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Flames star scoring at a torrid pace this season and putting his name into the Art Ross hunt

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

This, says Martin Gelinas, goes beyond ascending grades of good, better or great.

Into the realm of the celestial.

"Right now,'' reckons the Flames assistant coach, "Johnny isn't only on a whole different level. It's almost as if he's on a whole other planet.

"Like he was, I dunno … possessed.

"He gets the puck and wants to make things happen. So bad. Every single shift. You can't take your eyes off him, in case you might miss something.

"It's so much fun to watch.

"When you're the opposition, you know when a guy is that kind of hot. And you have to respect that. And when you're given that respect, you get more time and space.

"He's just feeding off of everything. Can he maintain it?

"I think he can."

As of Friday morning, Johnny Gaudreau sat third in NHL scoring, at 23 points. Ahead of him, only the Tampa Bay terror-tandem of Steve Stamkos (30 points) and Nikita Kucherov (29).

He's had a hand - amazingly - in over half of the Flames' 44 goals.

Yes, it's impossibly early to start talking viable Art Ross Trophy candidacy. There will be valleys to traverse and dips in form to pull out of as quickly as possible between now and April 7.

There are many miles yet to travel, 66 more games to be contested.

But this isn't merely a rich vein of form from the pocket sorcerer. This is the Colorado motherlode.

"Boy, has he been good," agrees Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan. "Both sides of the puck, for me.

"Just his offensive flair. His persistence. His tracking. His hounding of pucks.

"I just see the passion and the fire, the love of the game, there again. Passion fuels everything, right?

"He just looks stronger and quicker, he's in and out of areas fast. A very confident, high-end player, for sure. When those top players start feeling it, they're tough to stop."

While fear is too strong a word for hardened, schooled NHL defenceman, there's certainly a look of apprehension every time Gaudreau winds up and enters the zone, serpentining at top speed.

"It's amazing what the two guys in Tampa are doing,'' acknowledges Calgary assistant GM Craig Conroy. "It really is. And they're together.

"But I don't see any reason why Johnny couldn't win it. There's no doubt he's going to, sometime during his career. Every night, he's in on six, seven, eight, nine, chances. 

"Two years ago, I thought he stole so many pucks. Last year, he kinda waited more. But he's back to stripping pucks again. His stick position and puck protection is so … it's uncanny how he just keeps it far enough away that the guy on him can't get at it.

"And he's shooting more. Before, maybe goalies could cheat pass on him. Not now. He's shooting enough to keep them off balance and that opens even more options up for him.

"If you told me right now that Johnny was going to win the Art Ross at the end of the year, I wouldn't bat an eye. He's playing that well."

Since the franchise relocated from Atlanta, seven different players on 11 separate occasions have cracked the top-10 in league scoring, including Gaudreau himself, seventh in 2016.

But only once has a Flame claimed the Art Ross as the loop's top scorer, the iconic Jarome Iginla with 96 points in 2001-2002.

Could No. 13 be the second?

"I don't think about that,'' Gaudreau says. "It's not something I'm too, too worried about. It'd be pretty cool, but …

"When you start thinking about stuff like that, that's when your game slowly slips. For me, just keep doing what I'm doing, help the team win as much as possible and go from there.

"At times throughout the season, you go through ups and downs. I found that out last season at the start. You can't get too high on yourself or too low.

"Every time I get out there I want to create offence, I want to find the net, I want to make a play. When you have that energy, it's great."

No less an authority on point-production than the second-leading scorer in league history, Jaromir Jagr, said Thursday that the hockey world is wee Johnny's oyster.

"I told him he's just got such a great talent, it's up to him how far he can take it,'' said Jagr following the 6-3 victory against Detroit.

"With his talent, he can win the scoring every year."

Gaudreau certainly seems to have the linemates in place to make a prolonged run at the Art Ross, with triggerman Sean Monahan finding soft spots in defensive coverage and Micheal Ferland growing exponentially as a power forward.

"To keep up this kind of pace is hard,'' agrees Gelinas. "But Ferly's going, Monny's scoring. Those guys are really clicking now. So much can happen between now and the end of the season.

"But he's in the race. And he's not just playing hockey. He's gone beyond that. He's leading the way."

All the way to the top of the NHL point charts, perhaps.

"To be the scoring leader or MVP in the league is pretty crazy to think about,'' says winger Kris Versteeg, "but I guess the question is: Why not?

"I don't want to jinx anything or look too far ahead but if he keeps scoring game-winning goals or setting up game-winning goals, why not?

"There's a sense of freedom in the minds of good players, like Johnny, that they can go out there and produce. There's a sense of freedom in their play. The believe they're going to get the opportunities, the looks.

"That even if it doesn't go their way one night, it will the next.

"Johnny's that way right now."

So if Johnny Gaudreau won't bite on the Art Ross, will he at least admit this, right now, is as much fun as he's had since first slipping a Flaming C jersey over his shoulders?

"I mean, any time I get to dress up and play hockey, its fun,'' he says.

"Whether the puck's going in or not, I get to play hockey for a living. Right now, it's going really well, so this is a lot of fun for me."

And it shows.

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