COLUMBUS — Johnny Gaudreau’s goal this season was a simple one — make the Calgary Flames.
On Sunday, he’ll reportedly play in the NHL All-Star Game, as a replacement for Sidney Crosby no less.
P.S. — He made the Flames.
“It’s been a crazy year so far,” the 21-year-old Boston College product admitted Friday. “[A few months ago], I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay in college or become pro. I think I made the right decision.”
Indeed. Among NHL rookies, only Nashville’s Filip Forsberg has more points (40) than Gaudreau’s 35. On Dec. 22, the New Jersey native notched a hat trick against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Not that it’s been a cakewalk. Gaudreau’s listed weight, 150 pounds, makes him the lightest skater in the league. As Brian Burke puts it, we’re not talking about a small player here; we’re talking tiny.
As a winger, one of the toughest things for Gaudreau has been learning how to handle the big, aggressively pinching defensemen on the breakout.
“In college, guys tended to just back off and let us come out of the zone a little easier,” he said. “In the NHL, the defensemen are flying down, and you got six-five, 200-and-whatever coming down at you on the wall, it’s a little bit difficult trying to get the puck out.”
He was asked if he’s taken a big hit in the NHL.
Yes, he has.
But not from one of those big, aggressive defensemen.
“I think the hardest hit I’ve ever taken in my life was from Pavel Datsyuk actually, when we played the Red Wings,” said Gaudreau. “He got me pretty good. I wasn’t expecting him to hit me.”
He’s survived though. Smart, shifty players — think Wayne Gretzky and Patrick Kane — no matter how slight, have ways of keeping themselves out of too much trouble.
And at any rate, Gaudreau won’t have to worry about getting crushed this weekend. Much more likely, with the skills competition Saturday and the defense-discouraged main game Sunday, he could be a star among stars.