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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Johnny Gaudreau: Making a Case for the Best Flames Rookie Season Ever

In terms of raw point production, Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season by a Calgary rookie in 25 years and one of the 10 best rookie seasons in Flames history

But take the different eras into consideration -- put the 3-2 scores of today on a level playing field with the 6-5 scores of 30 years ago, and I would argue the 21-year-old diminutive left-winger is having the best rookie season in team history. And as you'll see, the numbers back me up.

Last Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks when Gaudreau picked up two goals to give him 50 points, he tied the point total Jarome Iginla had in his rookie season in 1996-97.

It also moved Gaudreau into the top 10 for best rookie seasons in team history. When he added three more points two nights later against the Toronto Maple Leafs, that moved him past Dan Quinn and into sole possession of ninth spot all-time.

He's not done climbing either.

Gaudreau sits just one point back of Jiri Hrdina and Paul Ranheim, who are tied for seventh on the all-time rookie list and he's only two points back of Hakan Loob.

With 13 games to go, the top five is within reach with fifth place belonging to Joel Otto, who had 59 points in 1985-86.


Top 30 Calgary Flames Rookie Seasons - Points

1. Joe Nieuwendyk (1987-88) - 75 gm, 51-41-92
2. Sergei Makarov (1989-90) - 80 gm, 24-62-86
3. Carey Wilson (1984-85) - 74 gm, 24-48-72
4. Gary Suter (1985-86) - 80 gm, 18-50-68
5. Joel Otto (1985-86) - 79 gm, 25-34-59
6. Hakan Loob (1983-84) - 77 gm, 30-25-55
7. Jiri Hrdina (1988-89) - 70 gm, 22-32-54
7. Paul Ranheim (1989-90) - 80 gm, 26-28-54
9. Johnny Gaudreau (2014-15) - 68 gm, 19-34-53
10. Dan Quinn (1983-84) - 54 gm, 19-33-52
11. Jarome Iginla (1996-97) - 82 gm, 21-29-50
11. Brett Hull (1987-88) - 52 gm, 26-24-50*
13. Dion Phaneuf (2005-06) - 82 gm, 20-29-49
14. Al MacInnis (1983-84) - 51 gm, 11-34-45
15. Robert Reichel (1990-91) - 66 gm, 19-22-41
16. Jim Peplinski (1980-81) - 80 gm, 13-25-38
17. Jonas Hoglund (1996-97) - 68 gm, 19-16-35
17. Cory Stillman (1995-96) - 74 gm, 16-19-35
17. Kevin LaVallee (1980-81) - 77 gm, 15-20-35
20. Sean Monahan (2013-14) - 75 gm, 22-12-34
20. Theoren Fleury (1988-89) - 36 gm, 14-20-34
20. Stephane Matteau (1990-91) - 78 gm, 15-19-34
23. Perry Berezan (1985-86) - 55 gm, 12-21-33
24. Jamie Macoun (1983-84) - 72 gm, 9-23-32
25. Matthew Lombardi (2003-04) - 79 gm, 16-13-29
25. Derek Morris (1997-98) - 82 gm, 9-20-29
27. Joe Colborne (2013-14) - 80 gm, 10-18-28
27. Brian Bradley (1986-87) - 40 gm, 10-18-28
29. Colin Patterson (1983-84) - 56 gm, 13-14-27
30. Eddy Beers (1982-83) - 41 gm, 11-15-26

* His Calgary totals before being traded to St. Louis on March 8, 1988.


Factoring in the Different Eras

While Joe Nieuwendyk's 51 goals and 92 points was a phenomenal season, it must be noted that the days of the high-flying, high-scoring 80s is long gone.

That 1987-88 team holds the franchise record for most goals in a season at 397. While Gaudreau sits 39 points back of Nieuwendyk's point total, he's done it on a team that is sitting at 201 goals entering Tuesday night's game against the St. Louis Blues. With less than four weeks to go in the season, that's just over half of what the team scored 27 years ago. Crazy. If you're under the age of 35, you have no idea what NHL hockey used to look like. It was a different time.

It's not like Calgary is considered a low-scoring team by today's standards either. The Flames rank sixth in the NHL in goals for:

1. Tampa Bay, 228
2. Dallas, 215
3. NY Islanders, 214
4. NY Rangers, 204
5. St. Louis, 205
6. Calgary, 201


If you change the metric from the most points as a rookie to the greatest percentage of Calgary's offence that a player contributed to, the above list undergoes quite a transformation and guess who ends up on top, at least for the moment. You guessed it -- Johnny Hockey.

Gaudreau has been in on 26.4 percent of Calgary's goals. That is the best percentage by a rookie in team history.

If you look at things in that context, Nieuwendyk drops from first to fourth on the list. Also worth noting, Sean Monahan and the fine rookie season he had a year ago, climbs from 20th to 9th spot and Joe Colborne and his 28 points from a year ago jumps from 27th to 18th.

Getting back to the question at hand, is Gaudreau having a better season than Nieuwendyk?  It's certainly hard to look past a 51-goal season regardless of era, but one thing you maybe didn't know about Nieuwendyk's rookie year is a whopping 31 of his goals came on the power play. Just six of Gaudreau's goals have come with the man advantage.

No disrespect to the likes of TJ Brodie and Dennis Wideman but Nieuwendyk regularly worked with Al MacInnis and Gary Suter as his defenceman on the power play, Add in the likes of Hakan Loob and Joe Mullen up front and that was a very dangerous unit. Gaudreau is not surrounded by the same level of talent -- although it sure looks like Brodie and Monahan are well on their way to becoming among the best in the league.


Top 20 Flames Rookie Seasons - Percentage of Offence

1. Johnny Gaudreau (2014-15), 26.4
2. Sergei Makarov (1989-90), 24.7
3. Jarome Iginla (1996-97), 23.4
4. Joe Nieuwendyk (1987-88), 23.2
5. Dion Phaneuf (1987-88), 22.7
6. Carey Wilson (1984-85), 19.8
7. Gary Suter (1985-86), 19.2
8. Hakan Loob (1983-84), 17.7
9. Sean Monahan (2013-14), 16.8
10. Dan Quinn (1983-84), 16.7
11. Joel Otto (1985-86), 16.7
12. Jonas Hoglund (1996-97), 16.4
13. Paul Ranheim (1989-90), 15.5
14. Jiri Hrdina (1988-89), 15.3
15. Cory Stillman (1995-96), 14.5
16. Matthew Lombardi (2003-04), 14.5
17. Al MacInnis (1983-84), 14.5
18. Joe Colborne (2013-14), 13.9
19. Derek Morris (1997-98), 13.4
20. Robert Reichel (1990-91), 11.9

Worth noting is Josh Jooris (11-10-21) is currently at 10.4 percent so not far off the top 20.


Impressive about what Gaudreau has accomplished is he's three full percentage points ahead of Iginla, who is essentially the next guy on the list. Makarov, as you'll recall, was age 31 for his so-called rookie season. He had played 11 seasons in Russia already and was already a star when he came over to North America.

Makarov's presence on any rookie lists always carries an asterisk as the NHL redefined the age criteria for what a rookie can be, after Makarov was named the NHL's rookie of the year that season.


Calder Conversation

Gaudreau is definitely in the conversation for this year's Calder Trophy. He's one point back of Nashville's Filip Forsberg, who leads rookies in scoring, but Gaudreau has played three less games so has a higher points-per-game.

Impressive Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad would be the other candidate in what I see as a three-horse race.

Gaudreau is trying to become the first Flame to win the award since Makarov. In total, three Flames have won it and it came in a five-year span.
  • 1985-86 - Gary Suter
  • 1987-88 - Joe Nieuwendyk
  • 1989-90 - Sergei Makarov

Considering the instrumental role Gaudreau is playing for the Flames offensively, if he can get Calgary into the playoffs for the first time in six years, you'd have to think he'd be the favourite to win it, especially if he keeps up his red-hot scoring. That line with Monahan and Jiri Hudler have been on fire lately with 30 points over the last seven games.

It's just another interesting thing to watch over the final month. The finish to this season sure isn't going to be dull.


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