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Gaudreau showing Flames he belongs in NHL

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Johnny Gaudreau is listed as a member of the Calgary Flames, though he can't claim to be a Calgary resident. One month into his NHL career, Gaudreau still is living in a downtown hotel.

He hasn't been told to find a more permanent residence. Yet.

"I hope to hear the news," said Gaudreau, who has one goal and four points 10 games into his first full professional season after a standout career at Boston College. "There's nothing definite yet. Each day I'm fortunate to be here and I'm going to do my best to try to make sure [general manager Brad Treliving] is telling me to get a place. Hopefully I keep proving to them and showing them that I belong here."

His coach said he's doing just that. He'll have another chance to prove himself Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET, CITY)

Gaudreau had the game-winning goal and an assist in a 4-3 defeat of the Nashville Predators on Friday, impressing Flames coach Bob Hartley and Predators coach Peter Laviolette.

"He's a good player," Laviolette said of Gaudreau. "Good players do that. They can change a game."

It's not the first time Gaudreau has been a recent standout for Hartley. After Gaudreau had an assist in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, the Calgary coach was effusive in his praise.

"Johnny Gaudreau was buzzing," Hartley said. "He was fun to watch even from the bench. At some points I was watching him and feeling like a fan. He is so good at creating room for himself. He is a good worker. It's a sign that he's growing in this organization."

After getting the chance to sleep on it, Hartley still was complimentary the next day.

"That was Johnny's best game," he said. "Best game with the puck, Johnny without the puck. I felt that he was our best forward."

It's as good as Gaudreau has felt through 12 games in the NHL, 11 this season and the final game of 2013-14, when he scored in his debut against the Vancouver Canucks.

"I think it was one of those games where I was just making little plays," Gaudreau said of his effort Tuesday. "I try to do the little things right. I try to be smart in the defensive zone and try to create chances offensively. I was playing with a bunch of different players [Tuesday] and everyone was playing really well. It's easy to play when you're playing with players who are playing well as well."

It's more than just the supporting cast Gaudreau has been surrounded by, though. Hartley believes Gaudreau's development is through the hard work done by the young forward.

"Pretty impressive but it's still young," Hartley said. "To Johnny's credit, he's a great student, especially the way that he improved in our zone, in our system. He's a smart young man and he wants to do it and he works hard. You look at him in practice, he's always working, he's always applying himself.

"That's why that he's playing well and progressing in our organization."

But there will be questions surrounding Gaudreau, at least in the early stages.

He's listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. He has been dealing with an abundance of questions as to whether he can survive the rigors of the NHL game at that size.

"Your questions were our questions at the same time. Not only for Johnny but any young players that step in the NHL," Hartley said. "Johnny, his size will always be the ultimate question from everywhere. But he's answered this question since he started to play.

"Johnny is tough mentally. I'm sure that he went through so many battles where he had to prove himself that it's kind of another normal step for him. It's a big step into the NHL but I'm sure he went through this in college. I'm sure he went through this in midget or high school or wherever he played. It's déjà vu for Johnny but under a much bigger microscope. I feel that he's handling it very well.

"Once again he's answering it with great performances. He's progressing. He's doing good, but again, it's just a matter of getting better every day."

He's been doing that since he was a healthy scratch against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 17.

Gaudreau had been held without a point in his first five games, with one shot on goal. After watching the Flames' 3-2 loss that night to the Blue Jackets, he returned the next game and had his first two points of the season, including the game-winning goal, against the Winnipeg Jets. In six games since sitting out he has two goals (both game-winners) and four assists.

"It's been a learning experience for me," said Gaudreau. "It's been a different experience and a little different for me but it was a good transition.

"I'm excited for the next month and to see if I can keep improving, keep playing well with talented players."

And keep a Calgary residence.

"I just try to play every day like it's going to be my last one," Gaudreau said. "I'm fortunate enough to be up here playing with the Flames and playing with a whole bunch of talented players. I'm taking it one day at a time and doing my best every day."

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