Four years into an NHL tenure that’s been somewhat tumultuous but consistently promising, Johnny Gaudreau has started off 2017-18 with a newfound killer instinct.
The 24-year-old Calgary Flames winger sits third in the league’s scoring race with 31 points to his name, already halfway to last year’s point total with 61 games left on the schedule. That dominant performance hasn’t gone unnoticed by the future Hall of Famer that resides in Calgary’s locker room alongside Gaudreau.
In fact, it seems Jaromir Jagr‘s presence might be one of the key factors contributing to Gaudreau’s early success.
“(Jagr) was talking to me about how much he thinks of Johnny (Gaudreau) as a player and his offensive instincts,” head coach Glen Gulutzan told Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Sun on Thursday. “He’s told (Gaudreau) that, and he’s talked to him about his mindset going into games and how he has to think like a top guy and want to win and to do well every shift.
“That’s one of the challenges for high-end players is that they have to will themselves every shift to get something done, so Jags has talked to him at length about those kind of things.”
It’s this type of mentorship that made signing the 45-year-old Jagr a no-brainer for the Flames brass. While Jagr might not be lighting the lamp as often as he did in his youth, or even a few years ago, the legendary winger is as good a source as any on how to rise to the top of league’s crop of high-flying scorers.
It isn’t just about teaching Gaudreau to play like a superstar. The New Jersey native has that part down. Rather, the true game-changer lies in teaching Gaudreau how to think like a superstar.
“We’ve talked about a lot of little things that make you a better player day-in and day-out,” Gaudreau said. “Whether it’s staying out a little extra on the ice or when you’re not feeling your best that day, you have to push and make sure you get better that day instead of kind of going through the motions.”
There’s no arguing with Gaudreau’s results thus far. Through 21 games, the quick-footed winger’s 10 goals and 31 points leave him on pace for a career-best year, his end-of-season totals currently projected to land around 40 goals and 120 points.
Hitting those lofty heights is a near impossibility of course, but Gaudreau is still a good bet to top his personal bests of 30 goals and 78 points set back in 2015-16.
Though it’s tough to know how much of his success is actually tied to Jagr’s guidance, the duo’s coach believes the relationship between the talented wingers has been a key catalyst for Gaudreau’s improvement.
“I think what Jags is helping Johnny with is clarifying some of those thoughts and what it means. There’s a little deeper meaning for Johnny now, or a deeper focus, than what he had before,” Gulutzan told the Sun. “I think he had the mindset of it before — that’s my opinion, just watching it and being around other top guys — but I think Jags, when you have another top guy who has done it for so long, he’s kind of reinforcing or focusing that mindset. It means a lot more coming from him.”
With Gaudreau’s improved production in tow, the Flames are off to a similarly strong start, posting their most wins through the first 21 games of a season (12) since 2014-15.
They don’t look likely to fall off any time soon, as both Gaudreau and running mate Sean Monahan are rolling, poised for career years as the Flames look to finally take the next step in their slow, steady ascension.