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Gaudreau elite and complete in big contract season

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Calgary Flames Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are two stars on a top heavy team

His centreman will get all the Selke attention, and Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau is probably alright with that. But the speedy, gifted winger is a big reason his line – with pivot Elias Lindholm and flanker Matthew Tkachuk – have outscored opponents 23-4 when on the ice together at even strength this season.

“I’m fortunate to play with one of the best 200-foot players in (Lindholm),” Gaudreau said on Monday, deflecting some high praise about his own full-sheet play this season. “It makes my job a lot easier playing in the d-zone when you have a player like that playing with you.”

True. But Lindholm feels just as fortunate to play alongside one of the NHL’s most gifted offensive speedsters in Gaudreau.

“It’s fun to watch him,” Lindholm said of Gaudreau after the win in Chicago on Sunday. “He just keeps building his game and seems to be having fun out there. He’s one of the best playmakers I’ve played with.”

When you have elite skills, shifty agility and raw speed, it’s easy to play with the puck. It’s more challenging to use those same abilities to get it back when the other team has it. The consistent, competitive and often relentless lengths Gaudreau has gone to recover pucks has been noticed. It resulted in head coach Darryl Sutter offering the same kind of praise people are used to hearing him say about Lindholm.

“Johnny is one of the best 200-foot players in the league right now. That says a lot about him and just the way he’s approached the season,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said Monday.

Gaudreau’s character helping take personal and team game to new levels

“It speaks about his character. It’s simple. This team got in trouble because all their goals were set outside the locker room. It was just about individuals. And that takes a long time to change. You look at it, we’re almost a year into changing that. And where does that start? That starts with your top guys, the guys that get the credit, and then when they don’t play well, they get the criticism. That’s why you’re talking about Johnny now. He’s a good player, and he’s an easy guy to coach.”

Aside from the Selke, most other trophies NHLers aspire to are purely offensive in nature. You don’t necessarily have to backcheck to bank points. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, Gaudreau is on the pace for the same 36-goal, 99-point totals he hit in 2018-19. But, overall, he’s taken his game to new heights this year.

“Three years ago, I was maybe cheating a little bit more to the offensive side,” Gaudreau said via Zoom on Monday.

“I had a good year points-wise, but … I’ve gotten a lot better with my 200-foot game. I think that’s something that was important before the season started.”

Not surprisingly, Gaudreau mentioned the name Sutter in his first few sentences of Monday’s availability. And some will point out it’s a contract year for the 28-year-old. Gaudreau can leave the Calgary Flames as an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Maybe the main motivation is just winning games while he’s still in his prime.

“If it’s just about goals and assists and not about winning – that’s kind of where this team was, right?” Sutter said. “But when you become the consummate team player, making plays away from the puck or backchecking or tracking back or being in the right position on the ice or managing the clock, things like that, that’s where I think Johnny has really, really come to the front.”

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