Gaudreau, Valimaki & The Diagonal
Developing an cross-positional partnership
After an off-year in 2019-20, Johnny Gaudreau is again making high-end plays in the OZ and creating space in transition.
But this resurgence is caused not by Gaudreau “getting into the best shape of his life” or even about his longtime center Sean Monahan adding a new layer to his game during the off-season.
Instead Gaudreau’s return to form can be attributed to his budding chemistry with 22-year-old defenseman Juuso Valimaki (CGY6).
Despite being a left-hander, the offensively-minded Valimaki does his best work on the right side of the ice. This dynamic allows the left winger Gaudreau to delay, change direction, then open a seam for Valimaki to skate into.
Understanding The Diagonal
Hockey Daily 365 @HockeyDaily365Johnny Gaudreau taps one home to tie it up for the Flames! #Flames https://t.co/97uJtcfGkr
As Coach Greg Revak notes, this diagonal connection isn’t new to the NHL.
I had written about how the strong, skilled, smart but slow Joe Thornton (left-handed center) did his best work as a San Jose Shark by playing off of Dan Boyle and Brent Burns (right-handed Ds).
In recent years the same dynamic also applied to Patrick Kane-Erik Gustafsson (CHI), Sidney Crosby-Kris Letang (PIT) and Mitch Marner-Morgan Rielly (TOR), among others.
In transition a LW unable to use wide speed to defeat the NZ forecheck structure can pull up and make a change-of-sides pass to the streaking RD, who activates along the weak-side dot lane and continues the attack with the C and RW.
In the gif above, Gaudreau finds Chris Tanev (CGY8) on the weak side to defeat Toronto’s press. Tanev is also having a nice start to the season with his new team, thanks in part to his rededication to sprinting up-ice rather than sitting back on quick breakouts.
On the goal shown at the start of this article, Gaudreau and Valimaki connect on a Zorro Pass. CGY6 uses deception to draw the defensive structure toward the right point, then fires a cross-seam pass to the unguarded CGY13 back door:
Developing A Connection
In my skill development coaching with Bantam and Midget-aged players, I make a concerted effort to mix Fs and Ds so that both groups of players can better understand each others’ roles and responsibilities.
Some of my players fall into the Gaudreau mold, so it is incredibly important for them to understand how to get their weak-side Ds involved in the play to overcome their size/speed/strength disadvantages and maintain their offensive identities.
Darryl Belfry described Patrick Kane’s elite mindset when investing in his weak-side Ds:
Whether the D in question is an all-star or a scrub, Kane makes the pass if it’s the best play available
Even if the D bobbles the puck or misses the pass, Kane will keep working with him until he gets it
If the D doesn’t jump into the opening, Kane may spot the puck into the right place via an area pass, as to encourage the player to move offensively
Puck hogs rarely experience sustained success as they move up the ranks in hockey. And as a bantam Kane was quite the puck hog.
But by evolving his mindset and by actively cultivating his connection with his partners (both at F and on D), Kane has managed to become one of the most productive offensive players in NHL history.
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