It’s hard to know where to start when talking about Sean Monahan.
He plays like a 10-year veteran; a man who knows where the goal is, has the mental strength for a battle, and knows when to make clever plays and when to keep it simple.
Yet he is still only 20.
When he started off the 2013-14 season with much promise in what was a pretty promiseless side, it got you excited. Maybe not for that particular moment in time, because the team he was playing on was dire. The same stayed true for most of the year, when aside from Mike Cammalleri, Monahan was the offensive impetus at the grand old age of 19. Twenty-two goals and 12 assists in 75 games is impressive on many teams, for a player of any age, never mind being under 20 on last season’s Flames team.
It left you with hope. If he can do that in his first year, just how good is he going to get? Yet having said that, the pessimist in me would say "it's just his first year, he'll slump next year."
I'm happy to say my inner pessimist has been dismissed with pure aplomb.
Let’s start with the most basic of basics. The 4/2/15 game against the St. Louis Blues saw Monahan get his 30th goal of the season. Take away Monahan’s 30 goals and that gives the Flames 200 on the season, which would have them 25th in the league, with fewer goals than even the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Of course, you could say that any centre would score goals on a line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau, but at the start of the season would you ever have expected Gaudreau to have the start that he has, or Hudler to have a career year? Their performances have been improved by playing with Monahan. How so? See below.
Then, you can add Monahan's assists: 29 of them this year. In total, he has had a hand in 59 goals this season: over a quarter of the team's goals. Without them, the Flames would be 27th in scoring, only ahead of New Jersey, Arizona and Buffalo.
He has seven game winning goals, nearly double the amount of the chasing pack (Hudler, Gaudreau, Lance Bouma and Josh Jooris all have four), meaning at least 7 points are on that board purely thanks to Monahan — and that doesn’t include game tying goals or goals to lead the charge. In the past three weeks alone, his goals and assists have directly led to the Flames picking up four extra points.
This is neglecting his defensive contribution. He shows many of the characteristics of why I called Kris Russell a cult hero. He’s not afraid to put his body on the line, he knows when to put his stick in, he battles for the puck, he hustles as if his life depends on it.
He also exemplifies leadership on the ice. He's played 5-on-5, 4-on-4, on the powerplay, on the penalty kill, both 4-on-5 and 3-on-5. He starts in both zones, he carries the puck forwards, he defends a lead late on, he pushes his team forwards if they need a late goal. He is as two-way as two-way gets. It is my honest belief that Monahan will captain the Flames at some point in his career.
Put simply, without Sean Monahan, the Flames would have taken up citizenship in the Tank Nation this year.
At this point, I'd like to remind you again that Sean Monahan is only 20 years old.
Is it likely he can keep this up? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to keep up this kind of form for several years, and only the truly elite score on such a regular basis. But who's to say Monahan isn't one of the elite?
Then we can look to the future. Sign Monahan and Gaudreau to long-term contracts and the world is your oyster. Add in the strong performances of Mikael Backlund and Matt Stajan this year, as well as the emergence of Josh Jooris, and the impending arrival of one Sam Bennett, and it’s fair to say the Flames look pretty stacked down the middle. They look like a team who might make a serious run at making the playoffs… what do you mean they’re doing that this year?
In which case, hold on to your hats. The future looks bright, but the future is now.
by Liam McCausland