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Hudler's season sparked Flames, but he won't say so

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com

CALGARY -- Jiri Hudler is as elusive on the ice as he is off.

But while the bashful Calgary Flames forward has never proven to be a big fan of chatting about personal accolades, linemates of the right wing haven't been shy to step in and discuss Hudler's best NHL season.

"A lot of people might not have expected that but in this room we know how he can play," said Sean Monahan, who has served as Hudler's center for much of 2014-15. "It's no surprise to us. I don't think he minds not getting that attention that some of the other guys get.

"He flies under the radar a little bit. That's something that he likes. He's doing a great job for us. He's taken a big chunk of this season and carried us."

The stat line on Hudler is strong, if not outright surprising.

In his eighth full NHL season, and third with Calgary, the 5-foot-10 forward has easily surpassed his career-best totals.

Hudler scored 30 goals after his previous high was 25. He reached 60 and 70 points for the first time, easily outpacing his previous best of 57.

Not only was Hudler among the League leaders in scoring, nestled amongst a group of the best forwards in the game, but he led the NHL in even-strength points.

"People … it sounds like cliché but I said two months ago if I be productive and have goals and make plays happen we're going to have a better chance to be in the playoffs," said Hudler, an alternate captain with the Flames. "You should say, ‘No, no, no, it's important for our hockey club to be in' but everybody has a different role. One of my roles, with Johnny and rookies, is to score goals and to help that way."

Hudler's exploits were largely powered by an impressive March. He led all skaters with 13 assists, and his 23 points were the most from any player in any month this season. The month included four consecutive multipoint games and nine total. It helped Flames keep pace and eventually secure their first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance since 2009.

"As each game went on towards the end of the season he's been inching his way up there pretty quietly," said Johnny Gaudreau, who flanks the left side with Monahan and Hudler on Calgary's top line. "He definitely deserves a lot of credit, playing with two younger guys like me and [Monahan]. He's really helped us out a lot."

The press for Hudler has been minimal. It is as much a result of his reluctance for the spotlight as it is teammates emerging into it.

Over the past 20 NHL seasons there have been 11 players to have at least 30 goals and 30 assists in the same season before their age-21 campaign. Among them are Sidney Crosby (twice), Marian Gaborik (twice), Steven Stamkos (twice), Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Jeff Skinner.

Monahan is the latest addition to the group.

Gaudreau, along with rookies Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators) and Mark Stone (Ottawa Senators) join 10 others to reach 60 points in the past decade, including Niklas Backstrom, Brad Boyes, Crosby, Patrick Kane, Kopitar, Nathan MacKinnon, Malkin, Ovechkin, Skinner and Paul Stastny.

Understandably, it isn't hard for Hudler to get lost in all the excitement about his younger linemates on a rebuilding club amidst a career year.

"He's a guy that doesn't need attention," Monahan said. "He comes in and he's a great player. It's no surprise that he's put up these kind of numbers."

Hudler said he doesn't mind.

"The role I play on this hockey club, I just want to fit in," he said. "Obviously I've been through more than any young guy here before, so I'm trying to help them to stay calm. If they need a push, I try to push them. I want to, like everybody else here, win."

In that, Hudler's value to the Flames extends beyond numbers.

Flanking a rookie wing and a second-year center, the 31-year-old veteran of more than 600 NHL regular-season games has shown the way for Gaudreau and Monahan on and off the ice.

"I think that Jiri has been unbelievable for us," Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. "Off the ice, unfortunately the fans cannot see this but on the ice he's been great. Off the ice he's been a great big brother for all our young players. He's on the bench; he's vocal. He's been great for us."

The Olomouc, Czech Republic native has been especially helpful to Gaudreau, who is expected to be among the Calder Trophy finalists.

"I'm kind of in the same shoes as he was when he was a rookie," Gaudreau, 21, said. "He's helping me a lot on and off the ice. He gives me a hard time every once and a while but that's the fun of it. That's the type of guy he is. He's a really great guy."

The advice has helped Calgary's burgeoning star at center as well.

"He's been great, especially since me, him and Johnny have played together," Monahan said. "We've all helped each other and Hudler has done a great job talking to everybody. He's won a Cup before. It's great having him around and he's done a great job for us.

"He makes you want to be better. He can be tough on you and tell you things but that's part of being a veteran and trying to help younger guys be better players. He's done a great job with us off the ice communicating stuff like that.

"That's really helped both Johnny and I."

It's not by accident.A product of the Red Wings system, Hudler got a first hand look at leaders like Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. His first NHL action was a 12-game stint in 2003-04 and he shared a dressing room with Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull.

He's carried those experiences, and more, forward to Calgary. He's helped the Flames reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years.

The soft-spoken veteran will downplay his involvement. His teammates won't.

"He's a huge part of why we're doing so well this season," Gaudreau said. "There's a ton of games this year that if he wasn't in the lineup we wouldn't have wins.

"It just shows how hard he works and how good of a player he is."

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