CALGARY - It's impressive for any player to have 19 points in his team's first 15 games of the season.
But when that player is listed at 5-foot-9, 157 pounds, that feat becomes a little bit more eye-catching.
Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, 24, is not just any small player in the NHL.
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill had the chance to coach Gaudreau in the world championships this past spring and liked him even more than he had before.
"I loved him," Blashill said. "I didn't know how hard he worked every single day. His track, he's been well-coached, his track is awesome. He works so hard on the back check. I knew he had real good ability, I'd seen him play since he was a youngster going back to midgets but then in Dubuque for sure. I was so impressed with his work ethic and his will to win. It's awesome. Can't say enough good things about him."
In 2010-11 with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints, Gaudreau had 36 goals and 36 assists in 60 games.
Last season, Gaudreau had 18 goals among 61 points in 72 games.
With Team USA in the world championships, Gaudreau was tied for sixth in scoring with six goals and five assists in eight games.
Dylan Larkin had two goals and eight assists in those eight games.
"You learn how good he is," Larkin said. "I played with him both at the world championships and the World Cup. He's so good at seeing the ice and moving around and cutting back. He's probably one of the best at cutting back and kind of self-cycling. He's a dangerous player every time he's on the ice. What amazes me is his stick is so short that guys try and reach and go stick on puck and he just finds a way to pull it so close to his body and go underneath their sticks. It's amazing. Fun player to watch."
What is less fun is trying to find a way to defend Gaudreau.
"You got to skate with him, you've got to move your feet to defend," Larkin said. "I've seen him avoid tons of hits, you can't really get a hold of him. But you got to skate to defend him."
Said Justin Abdelkader: "It's tough. You want to make sure you're staying above him and making it hard, try and take his time and space away, not giving him room like players like."
Gaudreau has four assists in five career games against the Wings.
The Flames are 5-0-0-0 when Gaudreau collects two or more points.
"I think just his shiftiness, being a smaller guy, bigger guys have a real big problem kind of getting in front of him and playing physical on him," Scott Wilson said. "The style he plays, that's really one of the only things that would frustrate a guy like that is to play physical on him. You just got to be careful when he's out there, kind of like most of the other top guys in the league, have kind of a second awareness when somebody like that is on the ice."
LONG, WINDING ROAD: The Wings are currently 6-5-0 on the road this season and have a 2-1 record on this trip.
Having crossed through several time zones in Canada, the game in Calgary tonight will wrap up this swing.
"We've had a couple days off, which has been nice, guys are able to get refreshed," Abdelkader said. "We got to take care of business tonight. Obviously we know we're going home for a lot of games. So we want to come out and continue the way we've been playing and continue to do the things that have helped us win these hockey games."
Blashill said the key to success is the same for a game at the end of a long trip as it is every game.
"We got to make sure, especially on the road but all the time, that we play smart, repeatable hockey, that we don't have unneeded giveaways," Blashill said. "They're going to create enough of their own offense, we can't give them any easy offense and just play smart, repeatable hockey. When we've done a good job of pushing the puck up the ice, we've done a good job being on the forecheck in the O-zone, we're a good hockey team so we're going to have to continue to do it."
The Wings have had pretty good starts on the road and believe that is important against the Flames.
"I think we got to suck the life out of this building and make it hard for them," Larkin said. "They've got a dynamic offensive team, they've got some great players. Their D corps has some established players. We got to find a way to make it hard for them. It might not be pretty but we need to get two points here."
WILSON FEELING BETTER: Scott Wilson, who did not practice Wednesday due to a lower-body tweak, did participate in Thursday's morning skate at Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome.
"It was good," Wilson said. "I think sometimes you just need the extra 24 hours just to let something settle down. I woke up today feeling a lot better so I should be ready to go tonight."
Blashill said Wilson would be a game-time decision.
If Wilson is unable to go, David Booth was also working in on that line with Andreas Athanasiou and Martin Frk.
OPPOSING VIEW: Flames coach Glen Gulutzan has gotten his team off to a good start at 8-7-0, similar to the Wings' 8-7-1 record.
Gulutzan has been impressed with what he's seen from the Wings so far this season.
"I think that one of the things when we watch Detroit, other than speed that they play with, especially on the wings, they can really move, even up the middle, but they're one of the best teams at clogging up the middle and keeping you away from the net," Gulutzan said. "That's what we have in our scouting report. We're going to have to shoot pucks to break them down and get guys in front with lots of traffic because I think they've gotten good goaltending, too. When they clog up the middle like they do, and the neutral zone, you're going to have to be good with the puck through the neutral zone and then you're going to have to break them down in the offensive zone by getting a lot of shots because they are very good."
The Flames swept the season series last year and has won four of the last five games between the teams.