October 11, 2016 - 3:25 PM
CALGARY - There wasn't time to bring Johnny Gaudreau all the way up to speed in his first practice this season with the Calgary Flames.
Glen Gulutzan settled for incorporating Gaudreau into the power play, which is one of the new head coach's improvement projects in Calgary.
"To be quite honest, it's the best our power play has looked probably in the season and he's had one little tour at it," Gulutzan observed Tuesday.
Gaudreau returned to the Flames on the eve of Wednesday's season-opener in Edmonton armed with a six-year contract extension worth US$40.5 million.
Calgary's leading scorer last season with 30 goals and 48 assists sat out training camp while the deal that was announced Monday evening was negotiated.
"I wanted it to get done as quick as possible, but my agent and my family felt it was necessary to try to get a fair deal for myself," the 23-year-old said. "I knew I wasn't going to miss any games.
"It's a tough spot to put the team in. It's tough to start a training camp without one of your players. I know it's definitely a distraction for them. I've got to apologize for that.
"The team believes in me and believes in me for the next six years. I'm going to have to perform the way I always have."
Gulutzan must also incorporate another forward who has spent zero time at Flames training camp. Kris Versteeg signed a one-year contract Tuesday.
A two-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago (2010, 2015), Versteeg turned down an offer from the Edmonton Oilers, with whom he'd spent the pre-season.
In other moves Tuesday, the Flames signed defenceman Nicklas Grossmann to a one-year deal.
Calgary assigned forwards Linden Vey, Brandon Bollig and Daniel Pribyl to their American Hockey League affiliate in Stockton, Calif. Defenceman Ladislav Smid (neck) is on injured reserve to start the season.
Gulutzan resisted the temptation to pile on a lot of information in Gaudreau's first skate with an entirely new coaching staff and a few new teammates.
"It's not going to be system overload for him," Gulutzan said. "We want him to be dynamic and instinctual in the game. We'll give him the rough outline and then let him play."
Gaudreau wasn't idle in September when he had two goals and two assists in three games for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. His last game in that tournament was Sept. 21.
The five-foot-nine, 160-pound winger says he's kept in shape skating with a junior team and hitting the weight room daily since then.
"Obviously I haven't been playing at this speed for a couple of weeks now since the World Cup ended, but I did a good job getting game speed for the World Cup," Gaudreau said.
"I think I did a pretty good job these last two weeks getting ready for games for this upcoming season. I'm ready."
Gaudreau's contract counts $6.75 million annually against the league salary cap that was set at $73 million for 2016-17.
Gaudreau's average annual salary equals captain Mark Giordano's and is slightly above that of assistant captain and top centre Sean Monahan at $6,375,000 annually.
Monahan's extension signed in August was for eight years, however.
Flames general manager Brad Treliving said Gaudreau's return "comes with lots of time to spare before the opening of the season."
"The way he's being compensated is for who he is and what we think he can get to," Treliving continued.
"He's just got to go out and play now. Don't worry about the burdens that come with it. The contract cannot be a noose.
"Now, to whom much is given, much is expected. There are certain things that come along with that in terms of responsibility. He's ready for that."
Gaudreau's nonattendance was a persistent question mark through training camp and an issue Giordano was relieved to have resolved.
"Obviously when one of your top players gets back with the team, it's a good day," Giordano said.
"I think you notice right away on the power play today . . . he just makes plays that other guys don't make. Those in-tight plays and his ability to retrieve that puck. His lateral movement is second to none."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016