Johnny Gaudreau spoke to the media today for the first time as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Here's what he had to say.
One of the things Gaudreau was excited about when signing with Columbus was the atmosphere in Nationwide Arena.
"I've gotten to play here many times and every time I play here, it's a lot of fun to play here," he said. "The fans are into it. They got a lot of buzz down there in the arena. So I was really excited about that."
He was also excited about the young group that the Jackets have and said that this was the right fit for him and his wife.
"They got a good young group here," he said. "I think that attracts me a little bit too. And me and my wife thought it was a really good fit for us. We looked at some other options, but I think this was the best one for us personally, and where we're at in our life, and it's made the most sense."
Gaudreau was asked about the narrative that star players like himself don't want to come to Columbus and said that's not something that's talked about while reiterating that he wanted to come to Columbus.
"I mean, I wanted to come here," he said. "I mean, this was always a place circled on my list and I'm not really sure about any other players in locker rooms. We're not talking about why people don't want to come to Columbus. It's not a topic, locker room, to be honest with you, but for me, I just heard so many great things from past former players and it made me feel really comfortable with my decision to come here."
He highlighted the forward group the Jackets had and specifically named Patrik Laine.
"They got some really skilled players up front," he said. "And Laine's got probably one of the best shots in the league, probably after Ovechkin the way he snaps the puck and gets it off so quickly. Those are players you want to play with. I consider myself kind of a playmaker. I try to move the puck a little bit more. I get in trouble sometimes passing too much. My dad always gives me a hard time, "shoot the puck, shoot the puck, shoot the puck". But I like passing and when you have a score like that, I mean, you may want to dish it a little bit more."
With that young group, Gaudreau sees great potential.
"Yeah, I think there's a lot of potential," he said. "I thought it was it was a good spot for me personally, I think, you know, we can have a lot of success here. I think it's like I said, it was somewhere that I had circled on my list for a while now. And it's not only from what I've heard about the city and where you live, but they've got good players on this team too. And, and I'm really looking forward to jumping in with this group. I've heard a lot of great things, they're a close-knit group and that's what we want to play with, guys who get along in the locker room and love coming to the rink and working together every single day and it's just a healthy environment to be around and that's exciting to me."
Gaudreau loved the warm welcome he received upon arriving in Columbus.
"Yeah, I mean, I got here an hour ago so but the warm welcomes were are pretty, pretty special," he said. "I mean, me and my wife had a smile on our faces from the moment when we stepped in the door. You know, everyone being so nice and welcoming and I hope I hope people are excited. I'm excited."
He added that not only was the organization welcoming, but his new teammates were as well.
"Yeah, I've heard from about five or six of them," he said. "I had so many texts and calls last night and so many random Columbus numbers so I'm trying to call different people back and checking my voicemail not sure who I'm calling. So it was a bit hectic there for an hour or so, but I kind of slowed down a little bit and finally got to talk to everyone and you know, texted some of the guys, and everyone, like I said very welcoming, and we're excited."
Gaudreau mentioned that the fact that he's playing with rookie forward Kent Johnson, who looks up to him, makes him feel older. Gaudreau will wear #13, so Johnson will have to find a new number. But it isn't without any compensation.
"Yeah, I guess a little bit older," he said. "But no, to be honest, I remember talking to everyone right after I signed and it's like 'I don't need 13, you can have 13 I feel bad I don't want to take his number I'll get a fresh new start. And I'm gonna have to definitely take him out to a couple dinners. And it's very nice for him to do that and he didn't have to but, just shows you the type of players you're surrounded around, guys that are willing to do those little things and not expect anything in return but I'm gonna have to bring him out a few times."
Since Gaudreau spent the previous nine seasons in the western conference, he wasn't familiar with Columbus. So, he said he did his homework on the city.
"Yeah, I mean, for me, I only got to play here once a year and it was from the hotel back to the rink and then back to the hotel. So I really have never been to Columbus before that but throughout the summer, I did my homework on places that I thought were good for me and talk to some former players and after hearing some of the things I mean, I was telling people in there I was like, after every time I talked to a different person about the city, it seemed like the person I was talking was more excited than the last person I was talking to. And like I said, it's just it sounded like a perfect spot for us. And we're so excited and it's going to be a special place for us and it's hard not to like what we've seen already today. So it's been great."
Gaudreau added that the familiarity he has with some of his new teammates such as Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, and Zach Werenski will ease the transition.
"I mean, there's a lot of guys that I played with before," he said. "Change is hard sometimes but when you have familiar faces, it just makes it so much easier. And I was super excited about Columbus but after you see some of the guys that you've played with before and you know how they are good players and they help your team win games. Those are guys who you want to play with and go to battle with and that was exciting as well."
Regarding the video of the cannon at Nationwide Arena scaring him, Gaudreau laughed and said he needs to familiarize himself with it.
"Yeah, it was a lot of jokes about that already," he said. "We're gonna have to get used to that for sure. It's scared me one too many times here. So I'm gonna maybe stay in [Nationwide Arena] enough for you know, 5-10 minutes one day and just let it blast off."
Gaudreau said he liked what he saw with the renovation in the locker room and other facilities but added that it wasn't a deciding factor when choosing to sign in Columbus.
"I learned about it today when I was walking in," he said. "I mean, it's obviously great to have those things, but for me, that wouldn't make my decision. I'm pretty straightforward, I want to play hockey. That's the most important thing. I want to win games and it's obviously great to have those things, you always love to see that but I'm really focused on hockey, I want to win. That's the most important thing for me."
Upon joining the team, Gaudreau is confident the Jackets can be a playoff team soon but also harped on the challenges of not being in playoff contention while reiterating how important winning is to him.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I mean, obviously, I gotta get used to new things, how all the systems work and stuff like that, but I mean, it's hard to make playoffs in this league. And I've been there before, where you're sitting at the bottom of standings and it's hard to come to the rink and go to practice when you know you're out of playoff stop, and it stings and it hurts and you sit with it all summer and it just eats away at you. But that just gets you ready for next season. And I'm so excited to you know, I think we have a good group here. I think it's time for me to kind of get familiar with everything and all the new people and stuff like that. And this is a great start today, but I want to get back there. I didn't come to Columbus to check out the views. I came here to win hockey games, and that's important to me."
Gaudreau embraces the responsibility that comes with being a massive free-agent signing.
"Yeah, I think I mean, like you said, I always want to be a difference maker on the ice," he said. "It's kind of been my game throughout my whole career. I want to find a way to push our team to be a little bit better, get that game-winning goal, or make a nice play in the offensive zone to try to get a goal or a big play in the d-zone, but little things like that. I mean, that makes you a good hockey player. And, I'm really looking forward to just working hard, trying to, show maybe some of the younger guys or whoever how committed I am to trying to win hockey games."
Lastly, I asked Gaudreau about how Erik Gudbranson said that Columbus was an appealing place to raise a family and if he heard from him about that aspect.
"I've heard from a lot of past players here," he said. "And I feel like it doesn't get as much recognition as what I've heard from all these guys, and it really made us excited. We were really excited about choosing Columbus and coming here and we're really looking forward to start the season off and get going."