CALGARY, AB -- Johnny Gaudreau's rookie season didn't start out the way he would have liked.
The 21-year-old left winger failed to record a point in his first five games of the season, struggling to find ways to create offence against larger and quicker competition than he had faced in years past.
The coaching staff sat Gaudreau as a healthy scratch in Columbus, asking him to take a step back and observe the game from the press box to get a better idea of what he needed to do in all three zones to be successful.
He took their message to heart, studying the game from a different perspective, and when he returned to the lineup on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg, he scored his first goal of the season and added an assist in a 4-1 victory over the Jets.
Since that game in Winnipeg, the Carneys Point, NJ product has 30 points in his last 33 games and shows no signs of slowing down.
In November, he posted 11 points in 13 games and had multi-point outings. He followed that up by registering 13 points in 14 games in December, culminating in Rookie of the Month honours from the NHL.
"It’s really exciting," he smiled. "It was a really good month for our team even though we went through a little tough patch there for a little bit but we got back after it at the end of the month.
"I’m glad that I can help contribute a little bit offensively to the team. We have a really good group of guys in this locker room. A lot of people are producing right now. It’s great to see us winning games and everyone helping out offensively."
One of the most impressive things about Gaudreau's play this season is how quickly he has learned to adapt his game when needed. A student of the game, he soaks up whatever information he can and uses it to improve his play.
"Everything has been very impressive about Johnny," head coach Bob Hartley explained. "It was more like a wait-and-see approach. Let's open the door to NHL hockey to Johnny and lets see what he's going to being and how he's going to adjust. We have to give him full marks. We started game one here against the Canucks and the next night we already had a back-to-back against Edmonton. We were also starting a six-game road trip and it brought us to St. Louis and a few place that weren't very friendly.
"Johnny had his struggles early on. He always finds a way to adjust and always finds a way to bounce back and he's been a great part of this hockey club."
When asked about his progression since the start of the season, Gaudreau is quick to credit his teammates and the coaching staff for helping get through the rough patches and aiding in the adjustment from the collegiate game to the NHL.
"At the beginning of the season, I started out a little slow. I really wasn’t playing to the best of my ability. It took me a little bit of time to adjust and learn. It’s a different lifestyle, a different game than college. Thankfully I had a lot of help from the guys in the locker room and the coaches, to help me get where I’m at today.
"I think as each game went on, I felt more comfortable and felt that I got a little more experience under my belt as each game went along. I kind of just kept playing well and playing with different guys who helped me throughout the beginning of the season."
Mark Giordano is one of the players who has helped guide the rookie through the rigors of the NHL and has noticed a big shift in Gaudreau's confidence over the last few months.
"Big plays at big moments in games," Giordano stated. "It seems like whenever we need a big goal late in games, he’s the guy who wants the puck. Usually young guys, it’s tough to have that confidence and he definitely has it."
Gaudreau's name is now a constant in the Calder Cup conversation, something that Hartley feels is very much deserved.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Johnny, right now, is in the [Calder] race. I think with Ekblad and Forsberg it's going to be a great race. In Colorado I was fortunate that I had the winner and the runner up, I had Milan Hejdek as well. Johnny is going to get better. He has another gear. His will to learn and his will to compete are very impressive so I think we're going to see a great second half from Johnny."