Flames’ Sean Monahan flying under the radar as one of Canada’s elite players

Sean Monahan scored the game-winner 9:09 into the third period to get the Flames a 2-1 win over the Capitals.

In a perfect world, the current news cycle would be littered with endless lists speculating which NHLers should be on Canada’s Olympic hockey team.

And while such folly is obviously a fool’s game given the NHL’s absence from the tourney, it’s still a rather safe bet Sean Monahan wouldn’t have been on many such rosters.

Despite being fifth in NHL goal scoring with 17, which puts him just one behind Canadian leader John Tavares, the man on pace for 44 goals wouldn’t likely have garnered much national support.

The theoretical snub speaks to two things: the ridiculous talent and depth Canada has up the middle, and the fact Monahan is as underrated a player as there is in the NHL.

“Oh ya, I agree,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano of his team’s top centre.

“His ability to score goals is right up there with anyone in the league. He’s consistently found a way to put the puck in the net right from the start of his career, which isn’t easy.

“As he gets older his two-way play is stepping up, too – he’s playing against top players every night.”

The question, of course, is why – why has the 23-year-old, who has potted anywhere from 22 to 31 goals in his first four NHL seasons, not garnered the type of national praise needed to gain Olympic-sized love.

“Johnny (Gaudreau) takes a lot of the press,” pointed out Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy of the flashier face of the franchise.

“They’re kind of Batman and Robin.”

Conroy pauses to consider the analogy.

“Is he Robin? I don’t know. They’re just so good together. He just has that knack and scores 30 goals. Those other (prospective centres for Team Canada) have put up huge goals. He’s young, but he’s in that top echelon of players in the whole league.”

It would be irresponsible to forget mentioning four of the five centres from the 2014 Olympic team would all be shoe-ins to return: Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews and Tavares. Young Connor McDavid would certainly top many lists, followed closely by league scoring leader Steven Stamkos. Mark Scheifele, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier are having monster seasons, while Tyler Seguin, Nathan MacKinnon and Logan Couture aren’t far behind.

Still, with the numbers he’s put up this year, his consistency, his special teams contributions and the leadership he’s exhibited, surely Monahan would at least be in the conversation.

As he pointed out, he’s played wing almost every time his country has come calling, including the 2014 worlds, making him more flexible.

“I’d play in net if I had to,” he joked, flashing a rare grin.
“I never even thought about the Olympics so to be talked about with those players is pretty cool, but obviously we’re not a part of it so it’s something that didn’t cross my mind.”

Adding to his cache is the fact he’s tied for the league lead with six game-winners. In just four-plus years in the league he has racked up 25 game-deciders, tying him for sixth in franchise history with icon Lanny McDonald.

Nine of those have come in overtime.

In short, he’s clutch.

“This year he has been unbelievable how he’s put the puck in the net,” said Giordano of the man who first gained local fame by way of a comical @BoringMonahan Twitter feed run anonymously.

“He’s always even-keel and doesn’t really put himself out there too much. That has something to do with it. The other guys get way more coverage than he does. I think he enjoys staying low key and going about his business.”

And, yes, business has been good, which is what the ultra-focused Brampton, Ont. native is all about.

“I don’t think I’m underrated on this team or this organization,” said Monahan, the Flames’ sixth pick overall in 2013 who has been the most prolific player from his draft class.

“I don’t really like being talked about anyway. I kind of fly under the radar and play the game because I love the game and you come to the rink because you want to win.  Within this dressing room we all respect one another and I think the guys respect me and I think you can feel that when you come into the rink every day.”

No one in Calgary would take issue with his assessment. 

Monahan missed a golden opportunity to bolster his stock at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey when a back injury during training forced him to withdraw from team North America’s Under-23 squad.

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However, he since joined an elite group by becoming the sixth-youngest active player to score 100 goals, behind Alex Ovechkin, Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Stamkos and Patrick Kane.    

“I definitely agree he’s underrated,” said Gaudreau, his steady linemate.

“He’s a great leader for our team. He’s got a great shot and you can see he’s up there in the league. In overtime he’s been huge for us. I’m trying to get him the puck in the slot because he rarely misses.”

That’s why the entire city was shocked when Monahan – who has been shooting at almost 20 per cent this year – missed a gaping cage in overtime against Minnesota Tuesday.

That rarely happens when he sets up in his net-front office.

“Anything around the slot he’s like a shark in the water – he smells blood and he doesn’t miss,” said Conroy, who took note of the fact during a recent trip through Toronto it was Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk who attracted all the press, as opposed to the shy Monahan.

“Some guys are more flashy but he’s got one of the best releases in the game. Even in practice he hides the puck so well and the way he snaps it off is obviously hard for goalies to pick up.”

“For Team Canada there are some great names, but he’d be in the conversation.”

A conversation we can only hope reconvenes four years from now.

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