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.
5v5 CF% rel
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.