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World Cup

Johnny Gaudreau impressing Team North America

Flames forward called 'game-changer' by coach Todd McLellan

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- Coach Todd McLellan called Team North America forward-rich after practice at Bell Centre on Tuesday.

The description includes four No. 1 picks in the NHL Draft -- Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (2016), Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (2015), Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (2013) and Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) -- raising the possibility that a talent like Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau could fly below the radar when the World Cup of Hockey 2016 begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.

Gaudreau is a high-scoring who helps make Team North America so deep and dangerous up front.

"Johnny Hockey" has 143 points in 160 NHL regular-season games, including 30 goals and 78 points in 79 games last season, which tied for sixth in the League's scoring race.

"He's a game-changer in my opinion," McLellan said Tuesday. "He controls the pace of play offensively. You're always aware of him when you're on the ice. He can turn nothing into something quite quickly. His ability to bob and weave and escape through very tight areas with the puck and create off of it is an asset that he has. And I see him doing exactly that here with us."

Video: CGY@EDM: Gaudreau slips the puck between the posts

Nugent-Hopkins said Gaudreau's size (5-foot-9, 157 pounds) is not a detriment.

"He really thinks the game well," Nugent-Hopkins said. "He can find spots and he knows when to make a play, and obviously he has the talent and ability to do so. He can really read plays and situations and knows when to go and when not to.

"He's just so quick and side-to-side and in and out of battles. He's definitely super quick, so he doesn't sacrifice anything because of his size. He uses it to his advantage."

Gaudreau at practice has skated with Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, and Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Brandon Saad, who's playing right wing here.

"You hear about these guys in the League, so getting a chance to play with some of these skilled guys is going to be a lot of fun," Gaudreau said.

The 2014 Hobey Baker winner said he sees those qualities throughout the locker room.

"You can tell the guys got pretty well prepared for the tournament," he said. "I think we've had a couple of good days of practice here. We're a fast team, skilled, so it's going to be a lot of fun."

Video: Scheifele on how Team North America will find success

Linking Gaudreau and the fun element was McDavid's aim Tuesday when asked about his most-of-the-time NHL rival from Calgary.

"Obviously he's an unbelievable player, just his speed and his hands," McDavid said. "He does everything so fast. He's almost surprising, just the stuff that he does.

"Players in the NHL, they can become kind of predictable in the things they do, but he doesn't have that at all in his game. All of that's a factor."

McLellan, who coached against Gaudreau for two NHL seasons, mentioned something unexpected -- yet not -- that caught his eye Tuesday.

"We ran a power-play breakout today and Johnny Gaudreau made just a read and an adjustment, which is something we're going to get to tomorrow, but he's already at it today," McLellan said. "That's how skilled and talented these guys are."

Gaudreau, a 23-year-old from Salem, N.J., was part of Team North America's second power-play unit in practice Tuesday. Each group featured McLellan's preferred composition of four forwards and one defenseman, another strong indicator of the forward depth.

Gaudreau manned one of the points, with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers on the other side.

"I guess on the power play, it doesn't really matter where you're playing," Gaudreau said. "You've got to be skilled, move the puck, whether you're in front of the net or at the point. You can move all around the ice there … and try to find a way to get it on the net."

Video: CGY@MTL: Gaudreau shoots off Monahan's feed, scores

The World Cup format, bringing together players from Canada and the United States who are 23 or younger as of Oct. 1, raised some early questions, Gaudreau said.

"You'd like to play for your own country but you don't know if you're going to make the team or not," he said. "This gives us younger guys a chance to play in a tournament like this, play against some of the best players in the League. I know I'm looking forward to it and I'm sure the rest of the guys are too."

Gaudreau is one of two Team North America players who started World Cup training camp without a contract for the NHL season (Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is the other), but Gaudreau said it's not an issue for him.

"I'm just going into it as if I do have a contract," Gaudreau said. "I have insurance. It protects me. I was really looking forward to this tournament and I was excited when I found out I was going to be on the team. I think whether I had a contract or not, I was still playing in this."

Gaudreau said his agent, Lewis Gross, continues to talk to the Flames but he and Gross won't be speaking until his World Cup is finished.

"I told him I didn't want to be involved during the tournament," Gaudreau said. "I'm here to play for Team North America and I'm going to put that aside and play with this team for the next month here."

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