While it’s true that Johnny Hockey clearly needed to take a seat after
five games of less-than-promising performances to start his first NHL
season, the press-box benching doesn’t mean his next stop has to be the
American Hockey League.
You didn’t really think it would be easy making the jump from the
college ranks to the fastest and most fluid game on Earth, did you?
Sure, he scored in his NHL debut last spring. But a meaningless final
regular-season game against a disinterested opponent, a flood of
adrenaline from the thrill of the milestone and the momentum of a hugely
successful NCAA season just miles in the rearview mirror are not the
same conditions Johnny Gaudreau is facing at the moment.
The 5-foot-9 (*cough*on skates*cough*), 160-pounder (*cough*soaking
wet*cough*) winger is making his true leap to the pros in much tougher
conditions with much more on the line for everybody involved as teams
look to get off to strong starts to their season.
The Flames have played just once on home ice, where they can get the
matchups they want for their players. They played four straight games on
the road, including back-to-back nights in Nashville and Chicago,
before Gaudreau was pulled. They play another emotional roadie in
Winnipeg on Sunday before settling in for five straight at the Saddledome.
“It’s been a slow start throughout the beginning of the season, but it’s
my first real season,” Gaudreau admitted to my former Calgary Sun colleague Randy Sportak. “The guys here are a lot stronger, faster,
smarter (than in college). These games are just a whole level up. It’s
(taking) a little time to get used to and adjust to. I’m playing with a
lot of talented players in the locker-room that are going to help me get
there throughout the season. I’m excited to see where I end up in a few
The Flames can afford to give him that time. Sitting a talented young
playmaker in his first year from time to time offers a new learning
opportunity. You see things from above that offer insight into how to
play at ice level. Ask any sports writer and they’ll tell you just how
easy it is to play the game from their lofty perspective.
Yes, confidence can be gained from a healthy scratch.
It worked for Steven Stamkos.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft hit a wall midway
through his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, managing just
one goal and a pair of assists in a 16-game stretch that followed a
respectable start of three goals and eight assists in his first 24
Then came the benchings. It was dubbed a learning opportunity by coach
Rick Tocchet. Stamkos’ response reads very similar in context to what
Gaudreau told Sportak.
“Obviously I did something right to have the success I did in junior,
but here it’s a whole new level and you have to learn the ropes,”
Stamkos told NHL.com at the time. “There are so many veterans on our
team and it’s a new game for me. It has taken me a little longer than I
expected to adjust, but things are starting to get on track now.”
Give Gaudreau a chance to get on track at the NHL level before shipping
him to the AHL. He deserves a longer look. The fans deserve to see him
play some more games at the Dome before any judgment is made.
No one wants to see him rushed. Emerging stud defenceman T.J. Brodie was
sent down to the minors after a stellar preseason a few years back and
it has worked out just fine for his development. Players have to put in
their dues, and Gaudreau may eventually have to sharpen his teeth with
the Adirondack Flames.
There’s no better place to learn how to play in the NHL than right there
with the big boys, though, whether you’re suiting up for 16 minutes a
night or averaging closer to 10 in special circumstances and
occasionally sitting in the press box to help him learn what will serve
him best in reaching his teeming potential.
It worked for Stamkos.
It could work for Gaudreau.
At least give him the next homestand before ushering him out.