Kesler the latest to target Johnny Gaudreau

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If it wasn’t obvious already, it is now — there’s a big ol’ target on Johnny Gaudreau.

Gaudreau, one of the league’s most dynamic offensive talents, is also one of the most diminutive. As such, there’s been plenty of attention paid by opponents this season in the form of hacks, whacks and physical play.

He’s already missed 10 games this year to a broken finger — which, per Flames GM Brad Treliving, happened on the 11th slash Gaudreau received in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 — and on Thursday night, Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler shared his strategy on shutting down Johnny Hockey.

“They embarrassed us last time [8-3, on Dec. 4] and we wanted a response,” Kesler said, per the O.C. Register. “I thought our team responded pretty well. We’re good when we’re hard to play against. Particularly me. I thought if I had a chance to get a lick on him, I would.

“Obviously he’s a smaller guy and he likes to have his skating room. Doesn’t like to get touched. You can see the way their team reacted when you do that.”

It’s a telling statement, and not just because of targeting Gaudreau. Kesler also noticed how the Flames reacted.

That’s key.

In the aftermath of slash-gate, Calgary was livid. Players and management talked plenty about the treatment of their leading scorer, and Treliving acknowledged he spoke with NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom about the situation.

Kesler wasn’t the only opponent to notice the Flames’ response.

Two weeks after the Nov. 15 game, Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said Calgary “made a mountain out of a molehill” over the Gaudreau slash. Boudreau also apparently anticipated a reaction because, in the rematch between the two clubs on Dec. 2, he gave 6-foot-4, 211-pound tough guy Kurtis Gabriel his season debut.

Moving forward, this will be a situation worth monitoring, because teams are realizing that rattling Gaudreau isn’t just about ratting Gaudreau — it’s also about rattling the Flames.

Related: Gaudreau injury a reminder to how star players are defended and treated