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Huberdeau focused on shooting more in second season in Calgary

Jonathan Huberdeau Calgary Flames Jonathan Huberdeau - The Canadian Press

In his second season on the team, the Calgary Flames want Jonathan Huberdeau to listen to the fans at the Saddledome imploring him to shoot more.

“I heard it a lot last year from the stands, so I have to shoot,” he said on Sunday after scoring two goals in Calgary’s 10-0 preseason rout of the Vancouver Canucks. “All my life, [teammates] have told me to shoot.”

Huberdeau is one of the best playmakers in the NHL and set a record for assists in a season by a left winger (85) in the 2021-22 campaign, his final one in Florida before getting dealt to the Flames. His play fell off in his first season in Calgary as he had just 55 total points and the team missed the playoffs under former head coach Darryl Sutter.

Now with a new bench boss in Ryan Huska, the organization wants the 30-year-old to use his shot more. Huberdeau has two 30-goal campaigns under his belt but notched just 15 last season.

He was also shooting far less. His 1.59 shots per game were way down from the 2.78 shots per game he had in that record-setting 2021-22 season. His slot shots dropped from 115 to 72 and inner-slot shots decreased from 52 to 38.

Huska remembers one game in particular last season that encapsulated Huberdeau’s reluctance to use a shot that many teammates feel is underrated. 

“Last year in L.A. in overtime, we want you to shoot in that situation,” Huska said of the 4-3 December loss. Huberdeau passed on a couple of chances in tight before Kings forward Adrian Kempe ended it. 

“It’s just ingrained in him that he’s a pass-first guy and because of that, I think the guys that he plays with, a little bit of the onus has to go on them. They always have to make sure they’re ready, because even in situations where you’re not expecting a pass, you should be thinking [the puck] is coming…when he has opportunity to shoot, we want him to shoot.”

Huberdeau not only has a good shot, but by shooting more, defenders will back off in anticipation of it, opening up the passing lanes he craves. Huska coached Calgary’s blueliners last season and explained why playmaking forwards like Huberdeau need to force defencemen to respect the possibility of a shot.

“A lot of d-men are smart,” Huska said. “Chris Tanev’s maybe the best defensive defenceman in the league…and he knows tendencies of certain players. He’ll always play pass against certain guys, and it makes him have to make a few different reads if he has a guy that’s also a shot threat. So then Chris has to think about where his body may go in those situations because he has to also prepare to block a shot instead of just a pass.”

On Sunday, Huberdeau scored twice on just two shots.

“I guess I’m a shooter now,” he quipped afterward. Prior to last season, Huberdeau had averaged 2.49 shots per game over the previous four seasons. “The past few years, I’ve been shooting more and [teammates] have been rewarding me. When you start shooting, you get more respect from the defencemen and it’s going to create more passing lanes.”

Long-time teammate MacKenzie Weegar is a fan of Huberdeau’s release. 

“I know he likes to pass it and he can make crazy passes,” Weegar said. “He’s got vision behind his head, but he does have a great shot. You guys saw it twice last night, but for him it’s getting that confidence back that he does have a great shot…I hope he uses that shot a lot more this year because it’s a hell of a shot.”

Rookie Jakob Pelletier, meanwhile, called Huberdeau’s shot a “secret weapon.”

“I think he can surprise people with his shot,” Pelletier said.

Huberdeau has started training camp alongside Elias Lindholm and newcomer Yegor Sharangovich. The three have shown early chemistry in a new offensive system that prioritizes creativity and valuing puck possession over dumping it into the zone and shot volume.

Calgary’s fortunes for the upcoming season will depend greatly on Huberdeau’s ability to rediscover his offensive game. He knows that he might have to take the fans’ advice and be more selfish. Huberdeau’s Flames teammates certainly won’t have an issue with that, either. 

“It looked great watching him score those two goals,” Weegar said of Huberdeau’s preseason performance. “I had a big smile on my face on the couch.”