Five things: We have to talk

Ryan Lambert
September 18 2014 08:30AM

1. This is an important conversation

Even if you search really hard, you will probably not be able to find someone as enthusiastic as me about the chances of Johnny Gaudreau making an impact in the NHL this season. I think he has an incredibly high ceiling and is — without equivocation — a player who's more NHL ready than most Flames prospects, regardless of how long they've been playing pro hockey.

Gaudreau has just one game under his belt as a professional player, and while he scored a goal in it, I don't think anyone would be too willing to say he was definitively a difference-maker in it. That goal he scored was, in reality, a kind of fluky deflection; it's not like he did what he usually does to opposing defenses and cut through his matchups like a white-hot knife through pre-softened butter.

He did a phenomenal job in rookie camp, and that highlight-reel goal he scored against Winnipeg in the opening game was something I've seen him do more times than I can really remember: Appear out of nowhere, run down an overmatched and terrified defenseman like a road-raging motorist plowing through a red light, and score a high-skill goal that the netminder had no chance to stop.

I know for sure that I've seen Gaudreau play hockey more than just about anyone in the greater Calgary area — about three dozen live viewings over the last three seasons, and probably a dozen more on TV — and I can say with certainty that he does this literally all the time. That's why I think Gaudreau can make it in the NHL this year, right now, without seasoning in the minors: I've been watching college hockey for more than 20 years and I don't think I've ever seen someone have that much game-breaking capability. Gaudreau's ability to stick a dagger in an opponent's heart with a single shift is unrivaled by anyone I've seen at this level.

2. Under pressure

With that all having been said, just because he's NHL ready — and again, he 100 percent is — the treatment he's gotten in Calgary over the last week has been, to put it kindly, a bit much. Every day at camp there was a breathless dispatch about "I Can't Believe What Johnny Hockey Did This Time!" To some extent, it's understandable; again, he did very well in grabbing two goals (and three points in as many games) under relatively limited conditions.

But people put way, way too much stock in those tournaments over the weekend, at least from what I saw. The goaltender Gaudreau abused for the attention-grabbing backhander in the opening game was kid named Connor Hellebuyck who, like Gaudreau, played NCAA hockey. He had an awful night for the Jets, and lots of people on Twitter were commenting that it appeared he had "lost confidence" or something along those lines.

The idea that any player at this level would "lose confidence" after a bad performance, especially in this low-stakes environment, is absurd. Hellebuyck was the best goaltender in college hockey over the last two seasons, putting together a .946 save percentage on 1,545 shots (only 84 goals allowed) in 53 games; his career shutout number (12) is the same as his career loss number in those two seasons.

This is instructive. Just as a fans can't let themselves fall to pieces over Hellebuyck's bad night, they likewise can't put too much stock in Gaudreau's overwhelming skill based on these viewings. And that seems like exactly what everyone spent the entire weekend doing; Sam Bennett comparing his ability to Connor McDavid's doesn't help at all.

He's going to be a very capable NHLer, but if you're looking for anything resembling a franchise savior, you're being a little misguided.

3. The point of concern

Then there's the thing that happened with Frank Corrado, which must necessarily be talked about.

Gaudreau's coming over the blue line, he's nowhere near the puck, and Corrado gives him a super-late forearm shot right to the face. He leaves the game likely as a precautionary measure, and is said to be fine afterward. He didn't miss the next game, but he also didn't see much action.

So if you're looking for the counterargument against Gaudreau's NHL readiness, that's it. His size makes him particularly susceptible to getting his head knocked off by some frustrated dumbass defenseman who he's tortured all night or all season. I've seen it more than a few times.

There was some discussion after the tournament ended that one of the big concerns about Gaudreau was his elusiveness. That is, how ably he'd be able to avoid getting decked by big NHL defensemen who can skate really well; bigger guys in college don't tend to be that good at moving around (though obviously exceptions exist) and the issue, then, is whether he can get through them with anything resembling as much ease he did at the college level. I would say that from what we saw this weekend and what I saw over the last few years, the answer is an unequivocal yes. His ability to almost never get hit is incredible.

But that doesn't prevent cheapshot scumbags like Corrado from doing what they did. He had no reasonable expectation to get hit there, but boy did he ever. If someone's going to use that as the case against his readiness, they might want to consider that literally any player is able to get clobbered like that at almost any time, whether it's Johnny Gaudreau or Jonathan Toews. If a guy wants to put you face-first into the endboards, or elbow you a full second after the puck leaves your immediate area, then he can.

4. A potential solution?

If nothing else, this lends credence — if you're looking to view things through this lens, and the Flames certainly are — that Gaudreau wouldn't have gotten headhunted if there'd been someone on the ice who would have beaten Corrado to death for what he did.

The idea of surrounding your small guys with "beef," as Brian Burke so eloquently put it, is one that's going to be advanced by the team past, present, and future, especially in light of what just happened to the guy who's weirdly being painted as some sort of salvational figure.

Will that be to the detriment of players like Gaudreau or Sam Bennett, who are smaller guys that bring a lot of skill to the table but will never be accused of playing "physical" hockey? Of course it will. You have to put skill with skill, plain and simple, and this is an event that's going to dissuade the team from doing that. It ignores the circumstances — the game was already a blowout by that point, and rookie camps are where idiots try to "make an impression" with physical or even dirty play on a regular basis — and the "this could happen to anyone" circumstances as well.

That is, of course, speculation. But knowing the Flames as I do, the idea that Gaudreau would be saddled with at least one low-skill player throughout training camp and the exhibitions seems very likely from where I sit as a consequence of this incident in particular, and of organizational philosophy overall.

You'd have to think that's detrimental to success overall.

5. And finally...

I don't know why we have to have this conversation about Gaudreau's size to begin with. This profile page from the Penticton tournament shows he put on a lot of weight to get ready for the NHL this summer:

Did he eat Billy Arnold?

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Yer ol' buddy Lambert is handsome and great and everyone loves him. Also you can visit his regular blog at The Two-Line Pass or follow him on Twitter. Lucky you!
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#51 The Real Slim Brodie
September 18 2014, 07:57PM
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@Baalzamon

Right after penticton I traded for Corrado with a 7th round pick and promptly traded him to the oilers so Mcrattan can beat him every battle of alberta. I love nhl 15

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#52 SavardianSpinorama
September 18 2014, 08:00PM
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@RexLibris

And yet Semenko still hasn't got a job with the Oilers?

I don't get it.

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#53 Rockmorton65
September 18 2014, 09:15PM
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BurningSensation wrote:

Agreed. If Wotherspoon can be our Seabrook and Ortio at least as good as Crawford, we should be rolling in Cups before long!

(note: I have been with my 4 year old daughter all morning. I may have permanent brain damage. Oooh look, the Cat in the Hat is on!)

Just keep singing "Do-ra...the explo-rah..."

Sorry. I'm in the same circle of hades. Wanted some company. Lol.

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#54 Danglesnipecelly
September 19 2014, 01:14AM
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What an odd article. It's almost as if you discovered Johnny yourself and everyone needs to know that you and only you will set the expectations because you found him first.

"He's really really REALLY good but not THAT good so don't get your hopes up unless I say so."

How come you can say he's good based on your viewings but we can't say he's good based on ours?

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#55 Grant
September 19 2014, 06:46AM
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BurningSensation wrote:

Agreed. If Wotherspoon can be our Seabrook and Ortio at least as good as Crawford, we should be rolling in Cups before long!

(note: I have been with my 4 year old daughter all morning. I may have permanent brain damage. Oooh look, the Cat in the Hat is on!)

You are out of your mind

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#56 Grant
September 19 2014, 06:48AM
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RustyStrombone wrote:

I'm assuming Lambert didn't watch much of the tournament.

"He leaves the game likely as a precautionary measure, and is said to be fine afterward. He didn't miss the next game, but he also didn't see much action."

He didn't leave the game - he was on the bench, however he did not play the last 5-10 minutes. He also has not played in a game since.

Also have no idea why he would suggest that Sam Bennett "will never be accused of playing "physical" hockey". Sure he's not an enforcer, but the fact that he plays physical and with an edge has been a talking point since day 1.

Lambert makes hyperbolic and/or false statements in almost all of his articles, while writing as though every word he says should be taken as gospel, which tend to make reading these articles so frustrating to read...Then again, here I am reading and commenting on it, so I guess that explains why he's still around and probably will be for some time.

Looking for a lot of toughness from a guy that two months ago could not do a pull up

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#57 MattyFranchise
September 19 2014, 07:45AM
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@Grant

Arm strength is really useful for skating hard and making hits.

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#58 SavardianSpinorama
September 19 2014, 08:05AM
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Grant wrote:

Looking for a lot of toughness from a guy that two months ago could not do a pull up

NHL Scouting Report:

"We absolutely love this kid - they type of player you win championships with. An effortless skater with exceptional quickness and speed. Skilled centreman has an absolutely relentless, and unmatched compete level. Strong on the puck. Plays on the edge with grit. Very elusive - in open ice he’s untouchable. Combines skill with a non-stop motor. Exceptional effort on the forecheck creates havoc and turnovers from d-men. Extraordinary desire/determination. Highly skilled with the puck on his stick and difficult to contain in the offensive zone. Tremendous vision and playmaking ability. Has sneaky hard shot with a lightning fast release - comes up with the big goals in big moments. His nasty streak forces defenders to move the puck quicker than they’d like. Plays dirty which makes him tough to play against, but also takes a few penalties. Strong personal character and captain material."

In other words, Bennett is tough in his own ways.

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#59 Grant
September 19 2014, 09:41AM
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MattyFranchise wrote:

Arm strength is really useful for skating hard and making hits.

It's probably a good indicator. Especially when you're about to enter the toughest league in the world.

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#60 Kevin R
September 19 2014, 09:51AM
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RexLibris wrote:
Lets bring in Dave Semenko...[h]e also scored goals & assists having Gretz & Kurri bouncing pucks off him in front of the net.

Semenko's career high is 12 goals in a season in 81-82 and 82-83. While use of the plural in your sentence is technically true, I think it still qualifies as overstatement.

;)

Translating Semenko to today's level of offensive production I think it would actually become a negative number.

He played a role in the game back then, but I don't think a Semenko is what the Flames need today.

Well I don't recall Davey boy getting much for power play time, which would drop his numbers offensively by quite a bit as the old Oiler PP was lethal. But when I see two very very skilled players score the amount of points Gretz & Kurri did in the "clutch & grab era", you know they had a lot of ice given to them. If you think Cement head wasn't part of the reason why those two had so much ice to terrorize defence men, well, I beg to differ with you as I went to a lot of those games. But I do agree, the new age Cement heads requisite is to have more hockey skills versus fisticuffs than the Semenko & our beloved Timmy Hunter did back then. & yes, I do have the autographed Battle of Alberta signed by those two hanging on my rec room wall. :-)

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#61 Will
September 19 2014, 01:00PM
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Ah yes, the new Omark. Soon Calgary fans will be saying trade Johnny for Weber straight up. It's one of the four stages of being in a rebuild. The first will be denial. Next will come bargaining, then anger, and finally acceptance.

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#62 MonsterPod
September 19 2014, 10:25PM
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Ryan Lambert wrote:

Yeah, not having big-time muscle around really hurt his production the last two seasons.

Sarcasm from the article author is lame.

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