Flames Thoughts: Johnny Gaudreau taking over as team MVP

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau celebrates with defenceman Mark Giordano. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Derek Wills is the Calgary Flames radio play-by-play announcer on Sportsnet 960 The FAN. He shares his views about the Flames’ latest game.

In a game where the two teams totalled 136 shot attempts, 76 shots and nine goals, the Flames improved to 4-2 to start their season-long seven-game home stand with a 6-3 victory over the Red Wings.

1. BOTTOM SIX BREAKOUT

As hard as this may be to believe, in the first 15 games of the season, the Flames didn’t get a single goal from their third or fourth lines. Yes, Kris Versteeg has spent most of the season playing in the team’s bottom six and tallied twice prior to Thursday’s game – but he scored one goal while playing on the Flames’ first-unit power play and the other playing in a top-six role on a line with Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland.

When asked about his third and fourth lines following Tuesday’s 5-3 setback versus the Canucks, head coach Glen Gulutzan said, “They gotta score.” Two days later, the bottom six chipped in with two goals and two assists. If the Flames are going to contend this season, they’re going to need a more of that moving forward.

2. NUMBER ONE FOR NO. 77

Congratulations to 2012 first round pick Mark Jankowski, who scored his first-career NHL goal on Thursday. When he was drafted, Jankowski was 6-foot-2 and 170-pounds. Five years later, he’s 6-foot-4 and approximately 210-pounds, and he used that size and strength to get to the front of the net to score a highlight reel goal.

Okay, that’s a lie… not the part about him going to the net, but the highlight reel part. Jankowski’s first goal was a greasy one – the puck bounced off his pants and in. Already a 20-goal scorer in the AHL (Jankowski led the league in rookie goals with 27 in 64 games last season and had five in six games before being recalled this season), Jankowski has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

After getting the monkey off of his back by scoring his first-career goal on Thursday, I’m anxious to see if an increasingly confident Jankowski starts shooting the puck more. If he does, I don’t think a 15-goal rookie campaign is out of the question – especially if he continues to centre Jaromir Jagr and Sam Bennett. Speaking of No. 68…

3. NUMBER 766 FOR NO. 68

After picking up his third point of the season with the first assist on Jankowski’s 1-0 goal, 45-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who has scored more goals than anyone not named Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, scored the 766th goal of his NHL career – and his first as a member of the Calgary Flames.

It was a special moment at Scotiabank Saddledome for Jagr, his teammates, including Johnny Gaudreau, who set up the goal and then picked up the puck for his teammate afterwards, and everybody in attendance. Calgary loves Jagr. There is a buzz in the building every time he touches the puck. The arena erupted when he scored his first goal as a Flame and again when he was introduced as the game’s first star.

On a personal note, I got goosebumps when Jagr scored. I’ve been calling professional hockey games for 17 seasons and calling Jaromir Jagr’s first Calgary Flames goal was no doubt one of the highlights of my career. Jagr is one of the greatest players and personalities in the history of the game. I think it’s safe to say hockey fans in Calgary realize how lucky they are to have a living and playing legend wearing a Flames jersey this season. I think it’s also safe to say Jagr feels equally as lucky to be playing in a hockey-crazed Canadian market for the first time in his career. General Manager Brad Treliving rolled the dice when he signed Jagr to a one-year, $1 million dollar contract.

In my opinion, the low-risk, high-reward gamble has paid off. Despite missing training camp and the pre-season, not only does the future Hockey Hall of Famer has four points in seven games, he’s also been a great mentor for guys like Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. Speaking of No. 93…

4. MONKEY OFF OF BENNETT’S BACK

As pointed out by Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson, going into Thursday’s game, Sam Bennett had played 47 minutes more than any other NHL player still pointless in 2017-2018. Bennett’s 15-game pointless streak to start the season came to an end when he was awarded the second assist on the game’s opening goal on Thursday night.

After recording 18 goals and 36 points in his rookie season and 13 goals and 26 points in his sophomore season, many observers, including yours truly, thought Bennett would be better than ever this season. While the 21-year-old has certainly had some ups and downs in 2017-2018, he has been a lot better than one point in 16 games would lead you to believe. Picking up an assist may get the monkey off Bennett’s back, but until he scores a goal, he’ll still be giving a gorilla a piggyback ride. Thursday’s assist should help Bennett’s confidence and that should lead to good things, including some goals, for him and the Flames.

5. THE GREAT GAUDREAU

On any other night, Johnny Gaudreau would have been the first star. With a goal and an assist, Jagr may have been selected as the game’s first star, but Gaudreau was the game’s best player.

Not only did Gaudreau score two goals and add an assist on Jagr’s first as a Flame, he dominated the game pretty much from start to finish. Gaudreau has always been great with the puck – but he’s taken his game to a new level this season because of how he’s played without the frozen biscuit.

In his fourth NHL season, Johnny Hockey is entering his prime. The 24-year-old is skating and playing faster than he ever has. Offensively, Gaudreau has been great. With 22 points in 16 games, sits third in the Art Ross Trophy race. Defensively, Gaudreau’s game is getting better and better, especially in the neutral zone where he’s applying back pressure that is helping the Flames defend less.

Sixteen games into the season, the gap between the talented left winger and goaltender Mike Smith for team MVP is closing.