Can anybody stop Johnny Gaudreau? The Rangers certainly couldn’t. He had two goals and an assist. The second-year winger has seven of his 12 goals and 10 of his 31 points over his past five games. Gaudreau also had six shots on net. He’s so much fun to watch, and deadly at 3-on-3. You would expect that the Flames would love to get him signed to a long-term extension real quick. As Gaudreau and Monahan both have contracts ending this season and I’m sure will both get lengthy terms to stay in Calgary.
Under the guidance of legendary head coach Jerry York, each member of the NCAA’s Boston College Eagles is encouraged to pick an NHLer — or several — to study, emulate and learn from.
For Johnny Gaudreau, that guy was Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane.
“Coach York tells his players to watch NHL games at night when you can and try to find a guy that fits you well and that you can relate to, and (Kane) was a guy that I thought would be a perfect fit for me to look up to and watch his games and just watch what he’s doing on the ice,” said the 22-year-old Gaudreau, who terrorized NCAA defenders for three seasons and is now the go-to guy for the Calgary Flames in just his second NHL campaign.
“Coming in as a freshman in college, when he says to look at a guy that you think you can compare yourself to, there’s not a lot of guys you can look up to and be like, ‘Oh, I think I can play like him.’ He was just one of the guys that I thought that I would like to become and play like. Throughout the years, watching him and practising little things that he does on the ice, I think it’s helped me in the long run.”
Indeed, Gaudreau must be a good student.
Are they equals? Certainly not.
Not yet anyway.
Heading into Saturday’s road clash with the St. Louis Blues, the 26-year-old Kane was tied for tops among all NHLers with 25 points. Now in his ninth campaign in Chicago, the 5-foot-11, 177-lb. speedster has a history of big goals and clutch performances and three Stanley Cup rings to prove it.
Gaudreau, all 5-foot-9 and 162 lb. of him, is one of the NHL’s emerging stars. Johnny Hockey was a Calder Trophy finalist last winter — Kane won the award in 2008 — and arrived in the Windy City with 17 points, good for a tie for sixth on the league charts before pucks dropped on a busy Saturday.
Search either of their names on YouTube, and you’ll need hours and hours to watch every how-did-he-do-that? highlight clip.
“We’re talking definitely about similar players. They’re at different points of their career — Kane is at the top of his career, and Gaudreau is just getting started — but there are a lot of things you can compare with those two,” said one NHL scout. “There’s obviously their stature, and then you go into their skill-set — they have dynamic hands — and then you get into how smart they are, creativity-wise, and being able to make plays at speed. And also, for their size, they have very good balance, which really helps them in their puck control, which is their strongest trait. Those two, their puck skill is what separates them from a lot of players. That’s high-end.
“They have that ‘it’ factor — that excitement when they get the puck. Both of them, when they cross the offensive zone blueline, you don’t really know what to expect as the opposing team.”
Another similarity, as pointed out by a second NHL scout, is what you don’t see. How many times, he asked, can you remember Kane or Gaudreau being pasted by an opponent?
The answer is almost never.
On one rare occasion, just before the holiday break last winter, Gaudreau was laid out by Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown at Staples Center. Some little guys would have been scared off, but he responded with his first hat-trick.
As the second scout noted, that ability to avoid checks — thanks to a combination of vision, smarts and lightning-quick lateral movements — is another common trait Gaudreau and Kane share.
“When I watched Johnny in juniors in Dubuque, Iowa, he was doing these crazy things on the ice — spins and turns and making plays,” recalled York, reminiscing about Gaudreau’s winter at the Junior-A level with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. (The Flames were also paying attention. They selected the scrawny left-winger in the fourth round of the NHL Draft that summer).
“Then we saw it again when he came to B.C. Behind the net, in a phone booth … He was just electric, spinning out of what appeared to be trouble to create these great offensive chances. And now the question was, when he left here, can he do it against the world’s very best? And he’s done a lot of the similar things that I saw at Dubuque or at B.C. in Calgary.
“His ability to adjust and keep his game despite which level he’s playing at — junior level or college level or national league level — is, to me, incredibly impressive. It’s almost the same Johnny Gaudreau as I watched at the other two stops.”
Brandon Bollig’s two stops in the NHL have been Chicago and Calgary, so the physical winger has a unique perspective on this particular subject.
During his first training camp with the Flames last fall, Bollig was often quizzed by the media about the comparison — did he see any of Kane in the hot-shot rookie?
At that point, Gaudreau had played only one game at hockey’s highest level. Kane had won two championships — three now — and a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Bollig certainly wasn’t knocking his new teammate, but he wasn’t comfortable with the comparison, either.
“I didn’t know too much about Johnny, and I don’t think he’d had the training camp that he wanted to at that point last season, so I had a different opinion than I do now,” Bollig said. “Now, having seen Johnny play for a year and a bit here and seeing the way he’s developed … Once he gets going, and once he starts feeling comfortable and making those plays and feeling more comfortable with his skill-set and within himself, I think you see more and more similarities with a guy like Kane.
“There’s obviously their agility and their hands and ability to make plays, but the big thing is the way those two slow the game down and almost play the game on their terms and slow everyone down to their pace and dictate what they want to happen. You see great players do that. When they come into the zone and have the puck and they almost pull up, you see everyone else reacting to them as opposed to them reacting to the play. They dictate what’s going on on the ice, and I think that’s the mark of a great player.
“Obviously, Johnny still has some things to do to be on the same level as Patty, but yeah, there are plenty of similarities there,” Bollig added. “And I would imagine Johnny would use Kaner as a reference point, with the fact that he has three Cups, a couple of Olympic appearances and all the accolades he has.”
A reference point.
That’s a great way to put it.
Kane, the first-overall selection in the 2007 NHL Draft, was an instant star. In his first 100 outings at the big-league level, all as a teenager, he scored 31 times and racked up 96 points.
Gaudreau, who turned 22 in August, will hit the century-mark in games played Sunday in Chicago. In 99 appearances so far for the Flames, the slippery winger from Carneys Point, N.J., has 29 goals and 82 points.
“He’s done so many things in the NHL and the Olympics … It’s tough to compare yourself to a player like that,” Gaudreau said of Kane. “It’s fun to hear things like that — when people compare you — but I know I’ve got a long ways to become a player like that. So just keep watching him and keep learning from him when we’re playing against him, and hopefully, I get close to him.”
Want further proof that Gaudreau’s on the right track?
Listen to this …
“He is probably one of my favourite players to watch in the league,” Kane told reporters of Gaudreau. “He’s part of a good thing going on in Calgary. I know they’re struggling a little bit this year, but he’s a fun player to watch. He has the puck on his stick a lot, he’s not scared to make plays out there, and he looks like a little guy just running around with the puck and creating scoring chances.
“So it’s good to see another American kid doing well, too.”