The odds-on favourite for the Calder Trophy is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jonathan Drouin.
Calgary Flames darkhorse Johnny Gaudreau, though, won’t be an underdog
for long if he keeps getting on the nightly highlight reel.
The way Gaudreau is progressing, it’s just a matter of time before those
who omitted him in their preseason Calder predictions add him to their
list of frontrunners and give the Flames hope for their first rookie of
the year since Sergei Makarov in 1990.
Both Drouin and Gaudreau factored into the scoring in the Lightning’s 2-1 overtime win over the Flames at the Saddledome on Tuesday night.
“Those guys are unbelievable players. You saw flashes of it tonight,”
said fellow Flames rookie Josh Jooris of the Calder candidates.
If Drouin is a little more polished, Gaudreau is a stick of dynamite
The 5’11”, 186-lb. Drouin was a dangerous addition to Tampa’s top line
with Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula, leading the rush with his
hypnotic stickhandling and working for space along the boards even as
the Flames did a great job in keeping that trio to the perimeter more
often than not.
With the Bolts down 1-0 and less than three minutes on the clock, Drouin
fought the puck away from T.J. Brodie and sought out some space. He
made a perfect pass to defenceman Jason Garrison on the point and his
blast trickled off Karri Ramo to leave a sitting duck for Filppula to
knock in and force overtime.
Drouin nearly won it himself in the extra end when Stamkos sent a pass
over to cap off a 2-on-1 rush that turned into two men and a goalie.
Ramo stoned him before Ondrej Palat ultimately ended it by converting a
rebound with a couple of minutes left in OT.
The electric finish was only possible because Gaudreau served as the
battery booster, ending the humdrum scoreless portion of the hockey game
early in the third period with the Flames on the powerplay.
It’s something we’re going to come to expect to see often in Calgary. A
streaking Johnny Gaudreau collecting the puck in full stride, slipping
the puck past a gaggle of opposing players but never slowing down or
Just when it looks like he’s out of room comes the perfect pass, without
so much of a lifting of the head, finding the tape of a teammate’s
stick in scoring position.
Against the Lightning, Gaudreau drew four Bolts players — defencemen
Anton Stralman and Matthew Carle and forwards Palat and Tyler Johnson —
toward him. He split right through them, all the while seeing in his
peripheral vision defenceman Dennis Wideman slipping to the net.
The only thing Gaudreau didn’t see was the finish as he crashed
feet-first into the boards while Wideman gave the Flames the first lead
of the game courtesy of the individual effort that preceded it.
“He’s that type of player,” said head coach Bob Hartley of Gaudreau. “As
soon as he has a little room, he takes advantage of it. He’s so
creative with the puck. He’s so accurate with his passing. It was a
Wideman wasn’t surprised it happened, although part of him was still in awe over how easy Gaudreau made it look.
“Johnny basically drew everybody in the rink to him and deked them out. I
don’t know how he knew I was there. He made some fantastic moves and
put it right on my tape. I think he knew I was there earlier. Whether he
still knew where I was after he made a few more moves — he must have,
because he put it right on my tape.
“When he’s got the puck in those tight little areas, he’s tough to check. He’s got quick hands and he’s quite lively.”
Lively is one way to describe the sprite little winger generously listed at 5’9” and 160 lb.
Skinny as a stick of dynamite and as explosive as one, too.
“It was an unbelievable play by him,” Jooris said of Gaudreau. “He just
had a lot of speed. I guess he saw some room there to head over the
blueline by himself. He’s usually pretty good at that.
“He made a couple of guys miss and was able to slide a pretty good pass over to Wideman. I can’t say I’m surprised, though.”
The more we watch, the less we’ll be surprised by these kinds of things in the future, too.