Johnny Gaudreau is hoping his Columbus Blue Jackets can take some teams by surprise in 2023-24.
“The amount of skill we have on our team with some of the young guys, it’s pretty fun to watch every day in practice and in games,” he said in a recent interview with NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman. “Hopefully, a few teams keep sleeping on us.
“I know we have the talent in our locker room and the right guys, and hopefully, we can build together as a team and come together as a team and do something special.”
Columbus was decimated by injuries last season. Star defenseman Zach Werenski missed the vast majority of the campaign due to a shoulder injury, while sniper Patrik Laine had three stints on the shelf and last suited up for a game in March.
No player on the roster skated in all 82 games, but Gaudreau was close, leading the team with 53 assists and 74 points in 80 contests. The Blue Jackets finished the year with a 25-48-9 record, 33 points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus responded by firing bench boss Brad Larsen after two seasons, replacing him with Mike Babcock, who last coached in the NHL in 2019.
Along with the much-needed time off to get healthy, Gaudreau is confident that the coaching change will do wonders for the Blue Jackets after a “tough year.”
“We need that hard-nosed coach that’s going to push us in practices and in games,” he said. “I’m excited to get out there and start the season off with him, and I think we’re going to have a good year this year.”
Gaudreau signed a seven-year, $68.25-million contract with the Blue Jackets last summer after posting 40 goals and 115 points during his final season with the Calgary Flames.
The 30-year-old said he’s feeling “a lot more comfortable” ahead of Year 2 in Columbus.
“I know all the guys, the whole organization,” Gaudreau said. “Getting to know the city really well. … Just starting to feel more like home. That’s what we wanted.”
Columbus’ 2023-24 campaign opens Oct. 12 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
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