All-Star Johnny Gaudreau Has Been Everything And More For These Blue Jackets And He's Only Scratching The Surface

By Will Chase on January 6, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Johnny Gaudreau takes the ice prior to the game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Gaudreau has only scratched the surface of his potential during his 37 games in a Columbus Blue Jackets sweater.

When you think back to that fateful day in July when the Blue Jackets announced their signing of the superstar winger, did you expect him to be the best player on the team, leading the club in points and assists?

If you did, then you're probably not disappointed as we fast forward six months later and Gaudreau leads the Blue Jackets with 38 points and 27 assists. He co-leads the Blue Jackets with 11 goals after breaking a nine-game goalless drought in Thursday's loss to the Washington Capitals. Gaudreau's 13 assists for the month of December tied Artemi Panarin's Blue Jackets record for the month set in 2017-18.

On Thursday Gaudreau was named to his seventh All-Star team.

Never mind that his Blue Jackets are in the middle of a less-than-ideal regular season as far as wins and losses on the ice go. But even one can argue that for a team in the middle of a rebuild, it's better to be far worse than bad enough to just miss out on making the playoffs when you can maximize your foundation with a Connor Bedard-sized opening in the upcoming draft. Adam Fantilli and others are nice consolations as far as high talents go.

With Gaudreau, there is more than meets the eye than just leading the club in points and assists.

Gaudreau went into last summer's free agency period coming off his best season to date when he set career highs with 40 goals, 75 assists, 115 points, and a +64 rating. He also led the league in a plethora of other high-octane offensive categories.

He was on a loaded Calgary Flames team, lining up with Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm. Prior to last season, Gaudreau hit the 30-goal mark twice in seven full seasons, 60 or more assists twice, and the 90-point plateau once.

In case you haven't noticed, these Blue Jackets are nowhere near where the Flames were last season, in terms of talent then or now.

Now with the Florida Panthers, Tkachuk has a team-leading 47 points, 20 goals, and 27 assists and would lead the Blue Jackets in two of those categories while co-leading the assists category with Gaudreau. Lindholm's 35 points lead the Flames as do his 23 assists, and his 12 goals are third on the club. Lindholm would be second in points on the Blue Jackets, right behind Gaudreau.

And in case you haven't noticed, the Blue Jackets don't have a Tkachuk or Lindholm on the Blue Jackets to partner with Gaudreau.

In parts of eight NHL seasons, Patrik Laine has shown to be a pure-scoring sniper, a superstar when it comes to putting the puck in the net. But he's been limited to 22 of 37 games due to injury and illness, meaning Gaudreau has had to adjust to a changing assortment of linemates.

Johnny Gaudreau - Patrik Laine GP TOI GF GA xGF xGA
5v5 22 210:01 9 13 9.42 10.13
Natural Stat Trick            

Such as in the Dec. 29 loss to the New York Islanders when Gaudreau played alongside Jack Roslovic and Emil Bemstrom, in the New Year's Eve win over the Chicago Blackhawks he was back with Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko, against the Capitals on Thursday he was with Johnson and Bemstrom. In Tuesday's loss to Ottawa Senators, the usual first line of Gaudreau - Johnson - Laine was deployed as the second line but that's not really fooling anyone.

Losing the best scoring center in Boone Jenner—out for a month with a broken thumb—hasn't helped, as Gaudreau has five points (one goal, four assists) in the seven games since but is still finding ways to get on the scoresheet.

Johnny Gaudreau - Boone Jenner GP TOI GF GA xGF xGA
5v5 30 397:55 21 24 18.9 17.68
Natural Stat Trick            

The pre-season first line of Gaudreau - Jenner - Laine has played in 17 games together, which is two fewer than the number of games played between Gaudreau - Johnson - Laine on a line this season.

Johnny Gaudreau - Boone Jenner - Patrick Laine GP TOI GF GA xGF xGA
5v5 17 126:25 7 8 6.05 6.03
Natural Stat Trick            

Gaudreau, Johnson, and Laine could be the line for the future of this team. Or even Bedard or Fantilli if the Blue Jackets are ever so lucky.

Johnny Gaudreau - Kent Johnson - Patrick Laine GP TOI GF GA xGF xGA
5v5 19 49:13 1 1 2.21 1.96
Natural Stat Trick            

Even though Gaudreau set the league on fire with his offensive production last year scoring 40 goals, you can go back to Gaudreau's introductory press conference when he said he considers himself more of a playmaker and that he'd get in trouble—with his dad—for passing the puck too much.

We've only seen Gaudreau scratch the surface with his offensive playmaking and creativity on these Blue Jackets as they navigate injuries and are forced to ice considerably less talent around Gaudreau than the teams he has played with in the past.

When projecting ahead from this past summer, it was never realistic to expect Gaudreau to replicate a 115-point campaign again, considering last season's extreme highs across the board for the all-star were an outlier, and he wouldn't be playing with the caliber of linemates that he had in Calgary or a team as stacked as those Flames.

A point-per-game player (1.03), Gaudreau is on pace for 84 points, which would be three points behind Panarin's 87 points, the Columbus franchise mark for points in a season in 2018-19. The conservative points projection I had in mind for Gaudreau was 75-80 points heading into the season.

It's also worth noting that the Flames are coached by a two-time Stanley Cup Champion in Darryl Sutter while Brad Larsen is 119 games into his head coaching career and 37 games into coaching Gaudreau.

So is there any way you can be disappointed with Gaudreau?

If there's one element you can really point to with Gaudreau and say you expect more, it's his road production. Through 15 road games, he hasn't been as effective, with only 10 points (one goal, nine assists) but those numbers should climb. It'll help being able to play with elite talent more regularly like Johnson and Laine on the first line and emerging scorers like Marchenko.

But the Blue Jackets have bigger problems and Gaudreau is still managing to be a point-per-game player for the team in the middle of a lost season on the ice.