CALGARY — The Calgary Flames’ swing through northeastern United States is a homecoming of sorts for Johnny Gaudreau. He left a Hobey Baker winner and returns a Calder Trophy candidate.
The 21-year-old’s hometown of Carney’s Point, N.J., is just 40 minutes southeast of Philadelphia.
Gaudreau concluded his college career at Boston College just over a year ago by winning the Hobey Baker Award that goes to the top player in NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey.
The winger signed with the Flames the same day he was handed that trophy.
Philadelphia and Boston are the fourth and fifth stops on Calgary’s seven-game road trip opening tonight in New York against the Rangers.
Gaudreau ranks second in NHL rookie scoring behind Nashville’s Filip Forsberg with 15 goals and 29 assists in 58 games. He has “a ton” of friends and family along the Eastern Seaboard who want to see the freshman sensation they call their own.
“It’s going to be an expensive trip,” Gaudreau said before departing Calgary. “In Boston, I’ve got about 15, 20 people I think I’ve got to get tickets for.
“Most of the guys who ask for tickets are pretty good buddies. I spent the past three years with them at Boston College. I’m excited to see them and have them come to one of my games.
“Philly, I have a ton of people come to that game. I couldn’t tell you how many people. I grew up there so I have high-school friends and teachers who are coming to my games. Philly will be pretty special.”
With his speed, quick hands and deft touch on the puck, Gaudreau has quickly become an NHL player who puts bottoms in seats. Just five-foot-nine and 150 pounds, he’s yet to show signs of wearing down while his minutes have increased since December.
Gaudreau has four assists in his last five games. A natural hat trick late in a Dec. 22 game against the Los Angeles Kings both carried the Flames to an OT win and had hockey fans sitting up and taking notice.
After Gaudreau’s first visit to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the Flames face the Devils on Wednesday and the Islanders on Friday before moving onto Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and Ottawa next week.
While the Flames (32-23-4) scramble to stay in playoff contention on this tour, it’s also the first opportunity this season for the New York, Philadelphia and Boston hockey media to put their cameras and microphones in front of their local hero.
“We’re going to help him, but at the same time, Johnny knows what he’s doing,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley said. “He’s had attention before. Obviously this is a different level, but it’s all part of the process. We’re not going to hide him. We don’t hide anybody.”
Gaudreau is prepared for the extra attention.
“Definitely going to be a little bit busier off the ice,” he acknowledged. “I’ve been to Toronto, which is pretty big media. This is home. I’m just going to try to take it all in.”