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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Gaudreau is having a season for the ages with the Calgary Flames

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, undersized Mighty Ducks of Anaheim forward Paul Kariya defied the conventions of his era and wowed fans around the National Hockey League with his incredible skills.

Kariya led the Mighty Ducks to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final and was a force to be reckoned with throughout the Dead Puck Era, even as he was constantly targeted with hits that would result in 10-game suspensions today.

In 2011, Kariya retired after sitting out the entire 2010–11 season as a result of lingering post-concussion syndrome. He departed the NHL with 989 points in 989 career regular-season games.

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That same year, the Calgary Flames drafted Johnny Gaudreau out of the USHL. Like Kariya, Gaudreau developed his skills in the NCAA and won the Hobey Baker Award for his prowess in the collegiate ranks.

Gaudreau made the NHL on a full-time basis in 2014–15 and, like Kariya, finished third in balloting for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season. Now in his eighth year as a regular with the Calgary Flames, Gaudreau is in the midst of one of the most impressive seasons any NHL player has had in decades.

The NHL is now a safer place for smaller-sized players than it was during Kariya’s heyday, and Gaudreau has largely managed to avoid significant injury during his tenure with the Flames (21-slash salutes notwithstanding). In 589 regular-season games with the Flames since his debut in 2014, Gaudreau has 589 points.

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Gaudreau has had outstanding seasons before. He racked up 60 assists in back-to-back years with the team in 2017–18 and 2018–19, amassing a career-high 99 points in 82 games in the latter season.

What’s different for Gaudreau this year as opposed to in 2018–19, then? For one: Gaudreau is only getting better as the games are becoming more difficult down the stretch.

The 2022 NHL All-Star Game took place exactly two months ago. In the 27 games since, Gaudreau ranks eighth in the NHL with 16 goals and fourth with 41 points. He contributed to all three of the Flames’ goals in their critical 3–2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

Conversely, Gaudreau managed just seven goals and 26 points in the Flames’ final 31 contests after the 2019 All-Star break. He followed that up with just one assist in five playoff games that year as Calgary bowed out to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.

The Flames still need to prove their worth in the playoffs this year. Gaudreau will likely influence their success in those games — or lack thereof — to a significant degree. In 30 career postseason contests with the Flames, Gaudreau has 19 points (only six of which have come at even strength).

Back in the 2018–19 regular season, Gaudreau picked up 72 even-strength points in 82 games. This year, he already has 74 in just 69 appearances. When put into historical context, that figure is truly staggering.

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Gaudreau is on pace for 88 even-strength points in 82 games this year. Since 1990–91, only three players have bested that figure in a single season:

  1. Wayne Gretzky (1990–91): 103 ES points in 78 GP
  2. Mario Lemieux (1992–93): 96 ES points in 60 GP
  3. Jaromir Jagr (1995–96): 95 ES points in 82 GP

Ever heard of those guys? (Fun fact: Gaudreau picked up the primary assist on Jagr’s last NHL goal).

During his entire career, Kariya never scored more than 61 ES points in a single season. Of course, Kariya also played during one of the lowest-scoring eras in the history of the National Hockey League. It’s incredible that he managed to score at a point-per-game rate for his entire career.

On average, NHL teams are scoring 3.12 goals per game this season. That’s the highest figure in that category since 1995–96 (the same year Jagr climbed into the history books with 95 ES points in 82 games). There’s no denying that Gaudreau is thriving under more favourable conditions than the ones Kariya had to deal with during his career.

Still, NHL teams averaged 3.08 goals per game in 2005–06. That same figure started with a three in both the 2018–19 and 2019–20 seasons. While Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, and Nikita Kucherov all scored at extremely impressive rates in those last two years, Gaudreau is on pace to outdo them all.

This year, nobody is even close to matching Gaudreau’s production at even strength. His 74 ES points lead the league by a considerable margin, with Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews second on the list with 67. After that, it goes Connor McDavid (65), Leon Draisaitl (64), Jonathan Huberdeau (62), and Kirill Kaprizov (62).

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Gaudreau is flat-out dominating games right now to an extent we’ve never seen before. With his line on the ice, the Flames’ opponents haven’t stood a chance. He’s regularly been the best player on the ice for either team.

What we’re seeing out of Gaudreau right now is one of the most impressive showings by any Flames player, ever. He’s added new dimensions to his game while becoming even more productive when it matters.

Gaudreau needs just five more points to become the first Flames player to hit 100 in a season since Theo Fleury in 1992–93. He needs four more ES points to tie Kent Nilsson’s team record of 78 (set in 1980–81) and seven more to tie Guy Chouinard’s franchise mark (set in 1978–79).

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No matter how this Flames season ends up concluding, don’t lose sight of how special Gaudreau has been to this point. We’re witnessing one of the most impressive individual seasons in the history of the franchise and it’s directly contributing to the Flames’ continued positioning atop the Pacific Division standings.

To distill it all down to just a few words: Johnny has, indeed, been good.


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