New role: Johnny Gaudreau expects to become a leader on ultra-young Blue Jackets


COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s not a role that comes naturally to Johnny Gaudreau. He was a superstar with the Calgary Flames, to be sure, but leadership was mostly left to grizzled veterans in the dressing room.

The circumstances involving the Blue Jackets may draw it out of him, though.

“Our team is so young here,” Gaudreau said. “I’ve never been on a team this young before, and it’s something I definitely need to get better at in talking to these younger kids.

“I’m here for the next seven years, and these kids are gonna be here well past when I’m done playing. They’re really skilled players, and it’s gonna be fun working with them the rest of this season and into the future.”

The short term might not be so pretty. The Blue Jackets lost 3-2 to the New York Islanders on Friday, allowing a four-on-four goal early in the third period to fall behind for good. Columbus is last in the Metropolitan Division and tied for 30th among 32 teams in the overall standings.

But the long term holds some promise with the Blue Jackets. The two Columbus goals were power-play goals scored by 21-year-old winger Yegor Chinakhov and 20-year-old winger Kent Johnson just 33 seconds apart in the second period.

Gaudreau assisted on both goals, his club-high 12th and 13th assists of the season.

The Blue Jackets have started to find traction within their structure, especially defensively. They aren’t giving up a flood of grade-A scoring chances the way they were early in the season.

But with offensive defenseman Zach Werenski and top winger Patrik Laine out of the lineup with injuries, among others, the Blue Jackets lack real offensive firepower beyond Gaudreau and the kids.

It was almost enough Friday.

The Islanders took a 2-0 lead well into the second period, and that’s when the temperature of the game was turned up. Islanders forward Anders Lee stepped into Blue Jackets defenseman Andrew Peeke at the blue line with a heavy hit that appeared to stagger Peeke.

Blue Jackets winger Mathieu Olivier lunged after Lee and fought with him at center ice, bringing Nationwide Arena to life and jump-starting the Blue Jackets attack. The game got plenty heated after that, and it paid dividends for the Jackets.

“That’s the whole point, right?” Olivier said. “I’m not going out there to fight just for the pleasure of it. I’m going out there to energize my team and change things up. It was 2-0. I didn’t think (Lee’s hit) was dirty at all. I just thought it was a good time.”

At 13:37 of the second, the Islanders were called for slashing (Adam Pelech) and interference (Cal Clutterbuck), giving the Blue Jackets a five-on-three power play.

Only 28 seconds into the power play, Chinakhov snapped off a wrister from atop the left circle to put the Blue Jackets on the board.

And 33 seconds after that, on a five-on-four power play, Johnson skated through the left circle and took a huge slap shot that found its way through traffic to make it 2-2.

Johnson is now tied for third among NHL rookies with five goals and tied for second with 11 points. He had a goal and an assist despite just 12:02 in ice time.

Chinakhov has 4-7-11 in 19 games this season after totaling 7-7-14 in 62 games last season. His shooting percentage (14.3) has more than doubled this season from 7.1 percent as a rookie.

Gaudreau has said many times already this season that he sees a lot of similarities between himself and Johnson. They both are diminutive wingers who need to be elusive skaters to survive against the much bigger players in the NHL.

“(Johnson) probably has a better shot than me when I was his age,” Gaudreau said. “But he sees the ice really well. Great shot. He’s so smart on the ice. He’s gonna be a fun player to watch here in the future.

“(Johnson and Chinakhov) are both really good, young players. They’re both pretty quiet, and I’m quiet, too. But you get comfortable with them and you chat a little bit more when you’re playing with them, and that’s happening a little bit more now on the power play.”

Gaudreau said he was shown the way in the NHL by former Flames players Mark Giordano, Matt Stajan, Mason Raymond and others.

“They really helped me at the start of my career, and I still talk to them to this day,” Gaudreau said. “You learn from other players. I’ve been in the league a long time now. Nine or 10 years. I’ve been around some really good leaders. You try to pick little things from them and put them in your own game.”

That’s what Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen sees happening with Gaudreau, who signed a seven-year, $68.25 million free-agent contract with the Jackets this summer.

The first challenge for any free agent is to find a fit within the franchise, and that’s been Gaudreau’s main focus.

“It’s a new environment,” Larsen said. “It’s new teammates, new coaches, new everything. I don’t think he’s a huge talker, but you can see he’s getting more comfortable around his teammates and vice versa.

“You just watch him … every time (Gaudreau’s) on the ice he can be dangerous in a really positive way. He had a couple of points, but he could have had three or four tonight, easily. He has that knack. The young guys watch him, and he’s a good guy to watch.”

(Photo of Johnny Gaudreau working for the puck against the Islanders’ Jean-Gabriel Pageau: Paul Vernon / Associated Press)


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