Johnny Gaudreau had a really good rookie season. For someone with so many doubts following him, though, a question persisted: could he do it again?
Yeah. He could.
Gaudreau scored 30 goals and 78 points through 79 games: nearly a point per game player, leading his entire team (with a good 15 more points than Sean Monahan in second place), and tied for sixth in the entire NHL. He started off strong – was the only Flame to have a good October, really – and never really held up. It took him 18 games into the season to fall behind point per game status; by game 26, he was a point per game player again. It wasn’t until his 72nd game of the season that Gaudreau fell behind point per game status for good.
That’s basically an entire season, and he spent it all as the Flames’ leading scorer. He also led the team with 217 shots on net, and at a 13.8 SH%, his numbers weren’t inflated. Two years into a career, and he’s basically a point per game player – and remember, he’s only 22 years old.
He’ll be 23 to start next season; he’ll also be starting it with a career stat line of 143 points in 160 games. While it didn’t happen this season, and likely won’t happen for a few seasons yet, it’s not out of the question to see Gaudreau as a career point per game player.
He scored two hat tricks and had one four-point game, as well as seven three-point games.
Averaging 19:55 a game, Gaudreau was the Flames’ leader in forward ice time, with 45 seconds ahead of the next closest guy, Monahan. He played 284:26 on the powerplay, the most out of anyone on the Flames by a solid 22:19; his 19 points with the man advantage also led the team. He only played 2:10 on the penalty kill, but his role was clearly defined: Gaudreau is here to score points, and he is going to score a lot of them.
And let’s not forget Gaudreauvertime. When early on in the season, the Flames could seemingly only win in overtime, it was Gaudreau in on almost every goal. Of the 13 games the Flames played that finished in overtime, Calgary won nine of them; of the nine overtime goals they scored, Gaudreau had a direct hand in eight of them.
Impact on team
Top left has players in most difficult circumstances: more defensive zone starts and tougher competition. Bottom right has players in easiest circumstances: a lot of offensive zone starts and weak competition. The bigger a player’s circle, the more he plays. The bluer, the greater his possession relative to his teammates; the redder, the worse. Click on image for full-sized chart from Corsica.
Gaudreau was one of the more sheltered players on the Flames; the only regulars who saw more 5v5 offensive zone starts than he did were Jiri Hudler and Markus Granlund, but they didn’t score at nearly the same rate he did – nor did they even have as great possession stats.
Gaudreau finished the season as a 49.55% CF 5v5 player. Only four regulars had higher corsi rates than he did: Jakub Nakladal, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, and Mark Giordano (and Nakladal was even more sheltered than Gaudreau considering the vastly inferior competition he saw; Gaudreau saw some of the toughest competition on the Flames).
Monahan had about the same usage as Gaudreau, but a little lighter on the zone starts; even so, recall how he still scored 15 fewer points – and his own 5v5 CF was only 48.10%, a fair drop from Gaudreau.
There’s no doubt Gaudreau is one of the best players on the Flames.
Of the top 10 Flames Gaudreau saw the most of, he formed a mutually beneficial relationship with five of them: Hudler, Giordano, Ferland (albeit in a much smaller sample size), Monahan, and Brodie. Of those five, it was Monahan who suffered the most without him; however, his offensive zone starts were much lesser without him, so that may have played a role in the drop. Giordano was the only player who appeared to be better when separated from Gaudreau, but not by much.
Russell brought Gaudreau down, as did Jones (by quite a fair amount) and Engelland (less so). There wasn’t much difference when Gaudreau and Hamilton played together or were separated, whereas Wideman greatly benefited from Gaudreau’s presence, and at least had the courtesy to not hurt him along the way.
What comes next?
Honestly, I have no idea – because I have no idea just what, exactly, his ceiling is.
He was a force in the USHL. He consistently improved in the NCAA, going from a point per game to 1.5 points per game to two points per game over the course of just three years. In the NHL, he went from .8 points per game in his rookie year to nearly a point per game as a sophomore.
Does he reach 80 points next season? As long as he stays healthy – which hasn’t been a problem for him, at least not when the games are still meaningful – then yeah, probably. Does he reach 90? … Probably not, but at this point, who’s to say? Especially if the Flames can find the third piece to compliment his line with Monahan. If they do that, then Gaudreau’s offensive totals could reach dizzying heights.
Remember, it’s only going to be his third NHL season. But he’s already top 10 in scoring in his draft class, and likely primed to overtake a few more guys as the 2016-17 season goes on.
It might not be a stretch to call him one of the very best offensive players in the entire game. Knock on wood, but that’s definitely what he was in 2015-16.