The NHL, USA Hockey and NBC will celebrate the 11th annual Hockey Weekend Across America on March 2-4.
In advance of the celebration of the sport in the United States, NHL.com talked to two of the most successful United States-born players in the League today.
CHICAGO -- Johnny Gaudreau has studied Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane's game since his junior hockey days. From the start, the Calgary Flames forward tried to emulate his game after Kane's, tried to pick up anything he could from watching him.
"The way he sees the ice, how he makes plays, his hands, his footwork," Gaudreau, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 104) of the 2011 NHL Draft, said of Kane. "It's not easy to learn from him but when you watch him for a long, long time you can pick up tendencies. It's something I've done over the years now."
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Gaudreau, 24, and Kane, 29, share a lot of the same attributes, from their elusiveness to their stickhandling to their playmaking abilities. Each is leading his respective team in scoring; Gaudreau had 73 points for the Flames and Kane had 58 for the Blackhawks, heading into play Thursday. And as much as Gaudreau likes to study Kane's game, the feeling is mutual.
"Just a fun player to watch," Kane, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, said of Gaudreau. "He gets the puck and it seems a lot of defenders don't know what to do with him. If you go at him, he's going to stop up, turn up and find the late guy. If you back off, you give him time and space to look up and make plays, which he obviously has the hockey sense to do that."
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Flames forward Troy Brouwer, who was Kane's teammate with the Blackhawks from 2007-11, said the two are, "shockingly similar. They're both guys who create a lot of space. It's amazing when you have that much skill that you get that much respect. You always talk about playing skill guys hard but those are two guys that are so elusive, you can't."
That is the conundrum in trying to stop either Gaudreau, a native of Salem, New Jersey, or Kane from Buffalo, New York. If you try to crowd them, they can get around you. You give them their space, but not too much because if you do, they'll take advantage of it. As current Blackhawks/former Flames forward Lance Bouma said, "it's nicer to have them on your side than playing against them. Two unbelievable skilled players who can make something out of nothing most of the time and it's fun to watch."
Even Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan got caught up in watching Kane and Gaudreau square off when the Blackhawks and Flames played this season.
"They're stealing the puck away from one another, back and forth," he said. "It's like you're watching young pee-wee hockey, right? The two really good players going back and forth."
Gaudreau (5-foot-9, 157 pounds) and Kane (5'11", 177) don't get much time to catch up during the regular-season schedule but they did cross paths at the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend. Any time Gaudreau can pick Kane's brain, he'll do it.
"I haven't stopped watching him since I started. Especially when he was winning all the [Stanley] Cups, I was in college watching him and was a big fan," Gaudreau said. "I've been fortunate to go to the past [few] all-star games and he's been there and I've gotten to know him a little bit better. I would just chat with him and learn from him a little there, too."
The similarities between the two players are clearly there. Gaudreau has studied Kane well, and the admiration is reciprocal.
"You watch him, he's great with the puck, always has his head up," Kane said. "One of the things you notice is he's great on his edges, can turn on a dime, move laterally as quick as anyone in the league. He's at a different level this year and that's probably the biggest reason why that team's had success."