The 2021-22 season is going as good as it possibly could be for Johnny Gaudreau. The 28-year-old is having a career year with 77 points in 57 games, which is fourth in league scoring. Thanks to his outstanding play, he is once again being considered an elite player in the NHL, and is in line for a massive pay raise this summer from his current $6.75 million salary.
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Gaudreau’s fantastic season thus far has earned him praise from all over, none more so than media members of the Flames. That praise hasn’t always been there, however, as many questioned whether or not the team should move him after two down seasons for his standards in 2019-20 and 2020-21. Despite talk surrounding his game this past summer, his head coach in Darryl Sutter knew all along just how special of a player he is.
Sutter Says Gaudreau Has Always Been a Top Player
On Thursday night, Gaudreau recorded a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. After the game, Sutter was asked if Gaudreau is once again a top player in the league, and quickly made it clear that he has never been anything but.
“Well he has been a top guy. I’ve said that all year,” Sutter explained. “You guys were the ones that said last year he wasn’t, I was the one who said he was. You told me I wouldn’t like, didn’t like, Johnny Gaudreau. So you can’t make it up as you go along, you’ve got to base it on performance. He’s a top player in the league. How is he not a top player in the league, he has a chance at winning the scoring race you guys, on a good team. Top guys play on good teams.”
Sutter clearly wasn’t a fan of the question, which to him made it seem as though Gaudreau has only recently become a top player. In defence of the reporters question, many believed the undersized wingers style of game wouldn’t work under Sutter, who generally likes his teams to take a grinding, physical approach.
Despite leading the team in scoring in 2020-21, Gaudreau’s 49 points in 56 games were somewhat disappointing, and at times it didn’t seem he was meshing with Sutter. That has been an entirely different case in 2021-22, as Gaudreau, along with the entire Flames roster, has completely bought into the head coach’s system. The results speak for themselves, as they are second in the Western Conference with a 35-15-7 record.
Gaudreau’s Game Has Evolved
While Sutter may believe Gaudreau was always this great, however, there were some flaws in his game in the past. Though he has always been a great offensive talent, his defensive play in past years had been lacking. That has changed entirely this season, as he has been sound in his own end, something his head coach has taken notice of.
“Johnny is one of the best 200-foot players in the league right now, and that says a lot about him and just the way he’s approached the season,” Sutter told reporters back in early January. “Really consistent and really buying in in terms of the whole package in terms of how we want to play. Your top players have to emulate how you want to play.”
Obviously, Sutter deserves a ton of credit for Gaudreau’s growth this season, but the player himself deserves plenty as well. After some disappointing playoff performances in past years, factored in with his offensive numbers taking a hit the past two seasons, there was a ton of pressure on him entering the 2021-22 campaign. He was clearly able to block out all of the outside noise and as a result finds himself in the hunt for the Art Ross Trophy nearly three quarters of the way through the season.
Sutter Continues to Be a Great Quote
These were a classic few lines from Sutter, who has been known over the years to have a number of funny and sarcastic responses with media. You could sense his wry sense of humor in this exchange, but at the same time he really made sure to prop up Gaudreau, as he has done with several Flames players this season. With him behind the bench, this team has a true shot to contend for a Stanley Cup later this year.