Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A vote for Johnny Hockey

The Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau is making a strong case for himself as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. (Alex Goodlett/For the Inquirer)
Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. (Alex Goodlett/For the Inquirer)Read more


Walk through the double doors with the shiny Flames emblem, down the hall past the 1989 Stanley Cup photo and the list of leaguewide award winners painted on the wall, and there is a room buried in the bowels of the oddly shaped Saddledome.

It feels more like a closet, less like a luxurious NHL locker room.

In the corner of the cramped Calgary dressing room, a cubby belongs to John Gaudreau - next to a rack of hockey tape and skate laces. It is a true "rookie" stall. No player with any veteran status would ever be shacked up there by the equipment staff.

Gaudreau, 21, doesn't seem to mind.

The left wing is even mistaken around Calgary sometimes, looking more like a fresh-faced high school student than a budding NHL superstar.

"They do think I'm young," Gaudreau said, laughing. "Every once in a while, people recognize me and I'm asked to sign an autograph or a picture. I try to take it all in. I'm pretty fortunate to be recognized like that."

He has done a commercial wearing a Calgary Stampeders helmet. He has done a Visa commercial with Flames captain Mark Giordano.

But Gaudreau is about to be recognized as the player who helped lead the Flames back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. With a goal and two assists, Gaudreau matched a career-high in points, doing so against the team he rooted for growing up in South Jersey.

The Gloucester Catholic graduate helped the Flames to an all-important 4-1 win over the Flyers last night, officially placing Calgary back in a Western Conference playoff spot. They knocked out Winnipeg in the process, still 12 games left to play.

Gaudreau also took over the lead in the NHL's rookie scoring race for the first time this season with 56 points in 70 games. He is the first Flames rookie to break the 50-point plateau since Jarome Iginla netted exactly 50 over 82 games in 1996-97.

Will that be enough for Gaudreau to have his name painted on the wall outside the Flames' dressing room as the NHL's rookie of the year?

"For sure," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "He has my vote. Here's a young player that had to make the transition from a college schedule to an NHL schedule, so that's quite a difference. But I think credit to him, for a small-sized player, he's handled it quite well.

"There's been a few bumps in the road, but at the same time, he always found a way to get back in gear and be productive. Look at Johnny Gaudreau's two-way game, it's pretty impressive as well."

The ballot for the Calder Trophy will not arrive in my inbox until the final week of the regular season, but Gaudreau has done enough to earn my vote as a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. And it has little to do with his Philly roots, everything to do with the shot in the arm he's provided in a Canadian market that was thought to be in the middle of a lengthy rebuild.

It's down to a three-man race.

Nashville's Filip Forsberg, who had the rookie points lead until last night, has seen his production wane a bit after a hot start to the season. He also had the benefit of playing 18 NHL games over the previous two seasons, with an idea of what he was getting himself into this season.

What No. 1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad has been able to accomplish on Florida's blue line this season as a 19-year-old has been nothing short of breathtaking. In addition to his 34 points, he has averaged north of 22 minutes per night on a young defense corps, backing up all the swagger he entered the draft last June.

Still, Gaudreau entered training camp in September as a 5-9 jitterbug among grizzled NHL veterans. Many thought he'd be destined for the AHL to start, pegging him to be more "Johnny Adirondack" than "Johnny Hockey."

"I definitely keep tabs on all the rookies," Gaudreau admitted. "I met a few of them at the All-Star Game and there's a lot of good guys around the league that I'm getting to know a little better. It's great to see young guys around the league that are doing well on their respective teams. It's exciting to be a part of a race like that."

Gaudreau has set himself apart. He never played more than 40 games in a season at Boston College. He has overcome the size factor that many people said would keep him from being a big-time player. And he has won the respect of his teammates, keeping the Flames in line to break the NHL's second-longest playoff drought even though they've been without his mentor, captain Mark Giordano.

Last year, Gaudreau scored in his first NHL game wearing No. 53. Last fall, he got to pick No. 13 when he made the team. Now, even if his name isn't on the wall outside the dressing room, it's a good bet he'll earn a better seat inside.

Slap shots

The Schenn family patriarch, Brayden and Luke Schenn's grandfather, George, made the trip over to Calgary from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to celebrate his 83rd birthday . . . Claude Giroux scored with 9 seconds left in the second period, after Craig Berube pulled Steve Mason with 2:03 to play . . . Matt Read is expected to rejoin the team in Edmonton today for practice after he was in Minnesota for the birth of his first child. His daughter, Roen Brittan Read, was born Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. at 4 pounds, 10 ounces . . . R.J. Umberger had surgery Wednesday at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to repair his right hip and bilateral abdominal areas. He will be rehabbing through early June.