FlamesNation player evaluation: Johnny Gaudreau

It probably goes without saying that Johnny Gaudreau is a really good hockey player. In seven short years he’s progressed from “lost child the Flames drafted in the fourth round” to “really good college player everyone hopes signs here” to “one of the NHL’s leading scorers.”

His evolution has been almost uncanny, in that almost nobody has managed to move from the United States Hockey League to college and the NHL without changing much of what made them successful. Gaudreau plays roughly the same type of game he did when he was 18, except now he’s dancing around Brent Burns and Drew Doughty rather than Nick Mattson and Dajon Mingo.

Gaudreau quietly had a career year in 2017-18, something that probably would’ve gotten more league-wide attention had the Flames not self-immolated in the last eight weeks of the season.

2017-18 season summary

Gaudreau had a superb offensive season in 2017-18. He’s been one of the Flames’ primary offensive forces since his rookie year, but this past season he seemingly went out and said, “Hey, I’m the guy here.” For what it’s worth, this was one of the primary motivations in bringing in NHL legend Jaromir Jagr – Jagr’s a multi-time scoring champion and was able to impart some wisdom to Gaudreau in terms of being able to score consistently.

In terms of consistency, Gaudreau had a point in 53 of the 80 games in which he dressed – a career high. He had 23 multi-point games – a career high. There were only two games in which he failed to register a shot on goal – yes, another career high. While his ability to execute varied from time to time – he’s still 24 years old and isn’t perfect – he’s managed to make improvements to his offensive game and is arguably more efficient than he was in prior years.

Games played Goals Assists Points TOI/GP 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF% rel OZS% PDO
80 24 60 84 19:25 54.19% 1.19% 58.16% 1.011

Statistically, Gaudreau had a great year. He was 18th in the entire NHL in points. He led the Flames in assists, points, average ice time for forwards, power play points and shots among forwards. He was 34th in the NHL in power play points and if he had been on a team with a strong power play he probably would’ve made a run at 90 points (or maybe even 100). As it stood, Gaudreau had the the fifth best offensive season of any Flames player in the salary cap era – and the other four better seasons were all from Jarome friggin’ Iginla.

On the flip side, Gaudreau took a ton of penalties (by his standards) and his eight minors and a misconduct represented a career high. Some of that was due to some iffy officiating and some of that was some frustration on Gaudreau’s part, but part of his maturation as a player is dealing with that type of adversity and not taking needless penalties for mouthing off to officials or retaliating when he gets hacked. He’s too important to the team’s success – in on 35% of five-on-five scoring and 56% of power play scoring – to be spending time in the box for silly reasons.

Defensively, Gaudreau’s commitment to details is still a work in progress. Sometimes he makes these beautiful back-checking plays to steal the puck from the other team and create an odd-man rush for the Flames. Sometimes he over-handles the puck himself and loses it at the offensive blueline, creating an odd-man rush for the other team. Sometimes he makes a big effort to make it look like he’s back-checking, and then he doesn’t actually do it – remember the infamous fly-by in that one game against San Jose? He’s better than he was as a rookie, but there’s still tons of room for improvement.

Compared to last season

On one hand, Gaudreau’s defensive underlyings all back-slid; his Fenwick, shots, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances and goals against (all per 60 minutes) were all worse than in 2016-17 and either career worsts or near that level. On the other hand, his offensive underlying rates all improved to the point where all the same stats that were at or near career lows defensively were also at career highs offensively.

Head coach Glen Gulutzan used Gaudreau in largely the same way he did in the prior season: lots of offensive zone starts, lots of shifts with Sean Monahan, and lots of first unit power play time. The team’s primary offensive weapon was put in a position to create offense and largely did. One could argue that he was relied upon too much, but when you have a Gaudreau you need to let him be a Gaudreau.

What about next season?

Together with Monahan, Gaudreau made up two-thirds of a tremendous offensive line in 2017-18. They were accompanied by Micheal Ferland, who tries really hard but isn’t a high-end offensive weapon. The Flames also had a horrendous power play. Gaudreau (and Monahan) put up tremendous offensive numbers with a sub-optimal right wing accompanying them and a listless power play.

If general manager Brad Treliving can add some offensive weapons to his roster – either making the top line more dangerous or spreading the offense out and making it tougher to line-match – then Gaudreau’s numbers could climb even higher. And just imagine if new head coach Bill Peters can fix the power play. Gaudreau had a career-best offensive season in 2017-18, and he could be even better in 2018-19.

#5 – Mark Giordano #7 – TJ Brodie
#8 – Chris Stewart #10 – Kris Versteeg
#11 – Mikael Backlund


  • freethe flames

    I wonder what his numbers would have been had Monny stayed healthy or if we had more depth to fill in when a guy like Monny gets hurt. I also wonder how many more points he would have if had not had one of the least effective PP in the NHL. Fortunately the coach who ran the PP is gone as is the coach who failed to see that Janko and Johnny were a better match than Johnny and Shore after the Monny injury is also no longer with us.

  • Kzak

    Please BT, get us a right-handed sniping RW. Listening to the guys during the game last night taking about Ovi, Stamko and Laine, and watching Ovi score that goal at the end of the first period, made me shake all over. We have nothing even remotely close to those right shooting guys, we need one, please, I beg you BT, please. Get one. Somehow. I don’t care. Get one. Please.

      • Kzak

        Yeah for sure, I certainly wasn’t meaning to get someone of that calibre but maybe a guy like Gallagher, or Toffoli, Arvidsson, Atkinson, Niederreiter, Nyquist. Mid-level guys that score and shoot a lot.

      • Honkydonk

        I beg to differ. There are players I feel are available to grab right now.

        Amongst them are the likes of Kappanen, Neal, Remember Valeri Nichuckinen from Dallas Stars who left for KHL. Sam Reinhardt and there are others.

        Point is all of these players have play making and shooting ability with speed.

        What you find in common with the four remaining cup contenders are how they manage the puck against the boards with those short outlet passes and how they back check and force pressure.

        As much as we need better shooters what we massively failed on is on the boards. Many under estimate the importance in that area to control the zone and create pressure and it’s impact on CF. That’s a system issue and a player personnel issue

        • freethe flames

          There are a lot of guys who might fit the bill; the question is at what cost. BT has to make sure that he does not sign anymore Brouwer type contracts in pursuit of this need. If signing a vet it must be short term. Barring this one has to hope that one of kids might be the answer. I also wonder if there is younger guy out there just waiting for an opportunity.

        • Off the wall

          Honky has a good point about one timers and board work.

          Not one player was utilized for a one timer on our PP. Hence, we were 29th in that respect.

          When you get a goalie moving laterally, you have a better chance of scoring, not sure why we didn’t use it?

          Our board work needs some grit, strength and skill. If we don’t address this, then what are the chances when games get tight checking (playoffs) that we’ll have a better outcome…
          Same with face offs!

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            One thing that stands out about the great one timers is that they are on their off-wing. Laine is a RHS, but plays on the left side on the PP for the set up. Not the only example. We could have used Ferland on the PP more often; instead Brouwer usually trolled the right side. If you want better one-timers, don’t have Johnny passing to Gio to Hamilton. Way too much time to react. If you want a one-timer from the backend, Johnny should be on the right boards; Johnny to Hamilton. Boom.

            Hopefully they address the need of a RHS that can play in the top 6. Ferland was good on the top line for about half a year. He was meh for a quarter and non-existent for the other quarter. Having someone that could play in his place when he struggles would give us better depth on the other lines.

          • The GREAT WW

            What kind of contract do you sign Tuch to though?
            He could be a one season wonder.
            What kind of $ and term would you give him?
            This could end up being a Clarkson type contract….


    • freethe flames

      It’s funny that Ovi’s office is his off wing. The key was that they won the face off cleanly; again a team issue and an area BP has said is important to him. I wonder if Ferland who can shoot the puck a ton could be used on the PP.

  • Fan the Flames

    Johnny is the best player on the team by far in almost every category except defence . His biggest flaw is trying to do too much at times . Ferland fell off a cliff in the last 30 games and Mony was playing injured or Johnny would have cracked the 100 pt club . If they had a flicker of a PP the Flames could have made the playoffs so we will need to see what Peters can assemble .

    • Honkydonk

      No he’s not the best in every category. He leads in give aways and he’s still lacking defensively and that is half of a hockey players responsibilities. At this point the only way I think you solve Johnny’s issues defending which is due to his size and strength where he is useless against the boards or getting between shots is have the centre split out to covers Johnny’s wing and have Johnny defend the middle of the ice instead. That will mean Mony covers the point and boards and that should help a bit

  • Squishin

    Johnny Hockey is so frickin fun to watch. The dude is a little wizard. Perhaps with a coach that plans a quick, exciting style, he’ll be even more fun to watch.
    The defensive lapses are frustrating, but I think he’ll get better at that, especially in a more structured system. He’s got too good of an IQ not to improve with clear guidance.

    • freethe flames

      Johnny does have defensive lapses that’s for sure but so does a guy like Ovi, Two things help to contribute to these lapses; one being a poor system and the second being the lack of depth offensively which I think leads to him taking chances a little too soon. I’m hoping that BP defensive zone structure will be better and that BT can add some offense to the top 6.

  • Hockeyfan

    great reg season player, but down the stretch when club needed him he absolutely vanished. Is it subconscious because he is afeard of the physical play required in playoffs? team is soft and inconsistent and in these playoffs they would have run and hid.

      • Hockeyfan

        never said that cheer leader boy. stick your head a little further in the sand. i have forgot more about hockey than you will ever know little one.
        ? do u feel JG stood up to the challenge the last 45 days of the season?
        ? do u feel sugarplum backs earned his term and raise?
        ? do u feel smith was all that and more according to the hype?
        cmon, pull your little head out and look at all the Flames have accomplished in 30 years, now bury it again.

        • Boundsy

          Curious Hockeyfan, in your opinion did any Flames have a good season? Did any make strides? I agree with you about Smith. I do not feel he was anywhere near as good as a lot of the hype surrounding him, but I feel Johnny did all that he is capable of with his skill set, the players deployed with him and also for the system and style that was in place, in fact I would say thevsame for Backlund.

        • cberg

          I guess one of those myriad of hockey things you’ve forgotten is INJURIES. Let’s see, Smith is out for over a month, team nose-dives. Mony playing with 3-4 minor injuries starting in November and gradually worse throughout the season. Tkachuk, Frolik, and others out for several weeks during the critical last month’s playoff drive….. Those alone answer all your queries. IF you have all that hockey experience how about applying it and some WISDOM to enlighten us all?

    • calgaryfan

      Who did he have to play with down the Stretch? They are a soft team but that is not Johnny’s fault. Monahan, Backlund, Jankowski, Brodie, Hamilton the list goes on and on of soft players.

  • Franko J

    I thought Gaudreau was one of the few players last season who actually lived up to expectations and billing. The guy is a dynamic playmaker and is continually becoming better with each season. He just has to come up with a few better moves on breakaways and keep working on his shot. Personally I thought every player on the team last year seemed to lack that emotional investment it takes to win. I’m hoping unders Peters there is a little more desire and want from the team. I think with a fresh perspective and strategy on the PP Gaudreau could ever improve on his totals from last year.

  • FL?MES

    It’s funny how arguably the best player on the team gets so few comments. I don’t know if you can find a ‘complete’ player but Johnny is probably an 8/10 for completeness. Pretty impressive given his ‘short’comings.

  • The GREAT WW

    Poor Rebar coaching a team infested with Oiler players….

    What were the Oiler players; a combined minus 15 at today’s game?
    With McDavid taking a 4 minute cheap penalty at the end.


    • cberg

      Agree, Nurse was terrible on a couple of goals, and Mcdavid, as great as he is skilled, still plays the game as an individual. Perhaps he and Bennett spending too much time together?

    • oilcanboyd

      Clutch player McD? Spazzed out against the Ducks playoff series 2 years ago. The Saviour is -2 and 1 assist in the games against the USA and Finland, the only real competition Canada has had in the first round….

  • Skeittari

    Not related to the article but I’m at the World Champs and going to see Johnny live today against Norway. So thrilled! This trip to Denmark was a surprise birthday present from my wife. An A-class girl ?

  • freethe flames

    As I have been saying since the playoffs began; BT has his work cut out for him during the off season. This team needs to address both it’s top end and it’s bottom end in the forward ranks; this would allow for the proper slotting of players. If BT can add via a trade top 6 forward and preferably a RHS that begins a trickle down approach to this line up; if he can add another second tier top 6 RHS to the line up the things really look up. (this could be done via FA and a veteran like Vanek on a 1 year deal could fill the hole nicely). The other area upfront that needs to be addressed is an upgrade at the 4th line center position. Realistically looking at this squad leaves us with a lot of questions; will Janko progress enough to be a true number 2 center or even a true shut down center(while I’m hopeful I still have lingering ? about this), where is Sam Bennett in his development is he a bust or is he just a slow developer, what is Lazar s there anything more in his game or is a 4th liner period, what about Foo how much credence can we put into his audition, what about Mangiapane whose audition seemed underwhelming (IMO misused when he was here) what about the kids Dube, Phillips and Gawdin how close are they and would any of them really fit our immediate needs. While it is all the rage to put really young guys into the line up how many 18/19 year olds are playing right now? This article is about Johnny and I just wonder how much better he would be if the Top 6 and PP were better; 10-20 points and better in his own zone.

    • rusty_shakleforde

      I like what you’re laying down here. I think that Vanek has consistently been a player everyone has hated on. No one wanted him for the flames at the trade deadline–he got traded and racked up a ton of points, was one of the big reasons columbus got into the playoffs I think. I’m not saying he’s a good long term option, or that I’m like pro Vanek just because, but why not, if we’re not confident one of our young guys (Mange, Phillips, etc.) can step into the line up, just get a Vanek for a year for our 3RW? Little moves like this after landing a top 6 winger are those depth moves that make all the difference.

      Our team didn’t score enough this season, plain and simple (tho not the only issue of course). I know Vanek is like 34/35, but good depth = good options = good flexibility. Giving young guys the chance is what is needed, but overrelying on them because we have no other option (which we did too much this season), is likely not good for anybody.

      I know there are problems with Vanek (age), but I think we really need to focus on bottom 6 as much as top 6. We gotta be smart about it (no more brouwer’s, etc), but yeah.

  • T&A4Flames

    Oh my lord. Johnny doesn’t do everything? Well, like Hamilton who doesn’t play physical, we should probably trade him too.
    For those that can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. A snub at those ‘trade Hamilton because he’s too soft’ activists.

  • rusty_shakleforde

    Perhaps if Johnny wasn’t expected to singlehandedly be the entire Flames powerplay strategy for getting into the O-zone all the time he wouldn’t have as many give aways…?