Dynamite Night for Calder Trophy Candidates

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
losing control.

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
great play.“
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.

  • Scary Gary

    Good read; he’s shifty to say the least. Making something out of nothing is what makes Johnny a game breaker, the dome atmosphere was electric afterwards.

  • Kevin R

    This kid is fun to watch & lets just not talk about him ever getting sent to Addy again, shall we? We put him with decent players & his name will be in the Calder nominations.

  • Scary Gary

    Definitely looking more confident. As the lines settle down and some chemistry develops I think he’ll take off. Line mates also got to realize what he can do and be prepared.

  • MWflames

    We know that when he has the puck, something interesting is going to happen. This is why he’s so great.

    What Jonny has to learn on individual level, and what team has to try and figure out (line combos/usage) is how to maximize the time that he has the puck.

    I think we’ll be saying this for quite awhile, but the more Jonny has the puck the more chances the flames will get.

    • Koolmoedee

      Wideman’s comments are so true. He attracts coverage like bees and honey. He has such ability in entering the zone that is only matched by Brodie. I think his true skills will show up when he has linemates that can maintain possession. Wideman was lucky to get a perfect pass, with Mony only steps behind.

      He has the natural abilities of a power play QB; he see everything, but needs to know what the best place to pass is. No point passing back to the point if the shots don’t get through to the net. No point passing to someone that can’t make a 2nd pass or take a high-percentage shot. I would like to see him sneak in to the slot and wire one at the net, too.

      In 5 on 5, he needs to be on a line where his linemates aren’t going to shoot as soon as they get the puck. He can cycle pretty good, but asking him to do that against the boards oon his wrong wing is too much.

      His most effective plays have been on the rush, and passing in full flight to a shooter, or slowing things down to take advantage of having multiple go-to guys.

      He needs to play some 4 on 4 to see that he can be trusted. He didn’t play in any OT, not in the one shoot out game. I think it would be a blast to see him in the shoot-out as well, not that I am a big fan of the skills competition.

      As far as Calder talk, he is much more a known quantity in sports circles than most west players. If he can produce similar number to some of the guys (except T. Pearson, who played 25 games and 24 playoff games last year; is he really a rookie?) he will be in conversation. I laugh how they were predicting Drouin would win it before he even made the team or played a single game.

  • MWflames

    Also, he doesn’t make that play through 4 players a week ago. I think the biggest strides he’s gonna make this year on his learning curve will be the result of increased confidence. Skills all there, so it mostly comes down to his confidence.

  • MWflames

    I love watching his game continue to grow. Even though Monahan isn’t putting up the points I feel like his game is progressing nicely too. He’s getting more responsibility, winning faceoffs, and playing better defensively for the most part. The points will come!

  • beloch

    Last night’s assist was exactly the sort of play he was pulling off against mostly non-NHL opposition during the World Cup. That he can do the same thing to legitimate NHL’ers (and has the confidence to do so) is extremely promising! My biggest fear regarding Gaudreau’s career was that what made him special in lower leagues simply wouldn’t work in the NHL and he’d be reduced to playing a more conventional game.

    I think it was a commentator during last night’s game who said he asked Gaudreau what he found to be the biggest change in adapting to the NHL, and Johnny’s answer wasn’t size or speed, but that the defenders pinch in on offence against him. So what surprised Gaudreau was that NHL defenders do not fear him enough and are bold enough to pinch in on offense when he’s on the ice! Here’s hoping they learn that fear in short order!

  • Skuehler

    ..surprising that Hartley finally saw the light and put him on a power play!

    Drouin will likely see more power play time and being on a line with Stamkos will get him the Calder.

  • Skuehler

    Someone asked about getting more info on the Adirondack Flames, but I don’t know where I read it!

    If you have Twitter you can follow the Baby Flames: @ahlflames

    There is some good info on how individuals have played lately in their preview for tonight’s game – I suspect their best players only….

  • RKD

    I’ll never get tired of watching Johnny Hockey, if he has the ability to go through defenders and stick-handle around them, all the power to him. I think when he is given more minutes and more pp time, he will really shine. Hope he can keep up his strong play for the rest of this home stand.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Hi Grant! Thanks for the solitary trash to every post. Nice to know you’re still around after that absolutely brutal losing streak by your team.

    Enjoy cheering for the worst team in the NHL.

    -Big Bear

  • Koolmoedee

    Last week, Gaurdreau was not making these plays. He said his time in the press box gave him new insights into players’ positioning.

    Since he’s been back, Gaudreau has been finding the puck in open space in a way he wasn’t before. In lower levels, the puck seemed to always find him but that wasn’t happening earlier this season. He had few touches and when he did, he was standing still with a couple of opponents on his back.

    Gaudreau has the skills, but as he learns the NHL game better he’ll find more openings to use them.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Oh yeah, and I’ll be SHOCKED if Drouin doesn’t win the Calder.

    Not because he plays in the East, or because of Stamkos, or because ofdraft pedigree.

    But because he’s REALLY. F***ING. GOOD.

    He’ll probably win, and he’ll probably deserve it.

    • piscera.infada

      Am I the only one that was a little peeved by the media concocting this Gaudreau vs. Drouin narrative?

      “Oooh they’re both small and skilled – one must fail, the other must be amazing.” I hate that.

      For the record, I will concede that Drouin is likely the better player – kid’s amazing. The whole argument however, sells Gaudreau short (pun partially intended). They can both be great players in this league, but I imagine playing with (arguably) the most prolific goal-scorer in the game right now won’t hurt Drouin. The biggest thing I noticed in last nights game was that Gaudreau would make some brilliant, albeit small pass or chip, and no one on his own team was expecting it to happen. Hopefully chemistry is the cure for that.

      • The Last Big Bear

        You know how we all talk about how amazing Gaudreau would be if he was a few inches taller and 25lbs heavier?

        That’s basically Drouin.

        I have no idea what Gaudreau’s ceiling is. And I absolutely LOVE that. He’s got me on the edge of my seat.

        But Drouin’s ceiling is in Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophy territory. There are plenty of teams that would have taken him 1st overall in the most top-heavy draft of the salary cap era.

        Drouin is a boat, and Gaudreau is the mystery box. A boat’s a boat, but the mystery box could be anything. It might even be a boat!