It seems only TSN hockey analyst Aaron Ward expected the kind of start the Calgary Flames seem to be on this season. With 33 points through their first 23 games, the Flames are just one point behind for first in the West.
Their red-hot start is a far cry from last season when the Flames finished 13th in the West in front of only their Alberta counterparts, the Edmonton Oilers.
Though much of this season’s success can be attributed to the career year of captain Marc Giordano (who was just named NHL’s first star of November), much can also be accredited to 30-year-old Jiri Hudler.
The 5-foot-10 center is currently in his third season with Calgary and is on pace for a career high season. The Olomouc, Czech Republic native has 11 goals and 23 points in the team’s first 24 games of the season and on pace for 37 goals and 77 points.
Though these would be career numbers for Hudler, the fact is he has seen an increase in his offensive production ever since he came to Calgary. During his time with Detroit, who drafted him in 2002, 58th overall in the second round, between 2003 and 2012 Hudler played 409 games as a Red Wing recording 87 goals and 214 points. That comes out as a points per game of 0.52.
Meanwhile in his three seasons with the Flames Hudler has amassed 38 goals and 104 points in 141 games, a points per game of 0.73. This points per game change with the Flames means that in a full 82 game season Hudler is putting up an average of 18 more points with the Flames than he did with the Red Wings.
Another big reason for Hudler’s improved offense is because of the role he has been thrusted into in Calgary. The Czech is enjoying a career high in ice-time this season averaging 17:55 a night, while his highest average during his time with Detroit was 15:40 in 2011-12.
Hudler has also seen a career high shooting percentage, finding the back of the net on 28.2 per cent of his shots. And he has also has recorded 78.3 per cent of his points (nine goals and 18 points)this season while at even strength. While Hudler has also had a knack for scoring clutch goals for his team, with three of his goals being markers that have tied the game.
Of course it is always important to note that it is still very early on in the season and paces usually tend to drop off at some point. However, what is clear is that Hudler has seem to have found a home in Calgary and if the Flames do happen to make it to the post-season you can bet that Hudler will definitely be a big reason for it, and someone the team will look upon to lead the way.
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Photo Courtesy of Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images