Yesterday’s news that Frédérick Gaudreau had signed a two-year entry level contract with the Nashville Predators was a picture perfect example of why I love covering life at the AHL level. It’s a league that features plenty of NHL prospects, high-end draft picks, low-end draft picks, former high and low end draft picks, and then the merry band of those who went undrafted fighting to earn their dream of one day playing NHL hockey despite the long road they face in front of them. Gaudreau was one of those players on the outside looking in. Yesterday was his first big break.
Who is this Gaudreau fellow then? Well, for those in Milwaukee and Cincinnati I feel that answer is fairly easy to muster up. Yet it is the Nashville audience that might be in the dark as to who their new prospect is. After all, he is now their property and someone worthy of keeping on an NHL radar given his success with the Milwaukee Admirals this season that forced the Nashville Predators hand into delivering him his first career NHL contract. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you fine people of Nashville to Mr. Gaudreau.
Gaudreau is a native of Quebec, Canada whose junior playing career started with the Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL) after being team captain of the Magog Cantonniers (QMAAA). In his first season with Shawinigan he played 64 games, scored 20 points (5 goals, 15 assists), and ended the debut junior hockey campaign off as a winner of the CHL Memorial Cup (2011-12 season). His career would continue with Shawinigan up until a trade in late-November 2013 that saw him move to the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL). His junior playing career ended with him winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the QMJHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player and having totaled 195 games in the QMJHL with 134 points (50 goals, 84 assists) to his name.
As an undrafted free agent the search for a professional playing career began after Drummondville was eliminated from the 2014 President’s Cup Playoffs by the eventual winners the Val-d’Or Foreurs. It was a search that took less than three months to find his first professional playing contract. He signed an AHL contract with the Milwaukee Admirals on 6/11/14.
In his first professional playing season Gaudreau displayed qualities that showcased his range as a forward. He is a natural center but was utilized on the wing often where his game opened up more and provided him with a bit more freedom to skate and operate. The downside to his debut pro season was simply the numbers game. The Admirals roster was hefty and often times it forced Gaudreau from the lineup. Gaudreau was brought in as one of those roster depth signings in the first place and I don’t suspect when the Admirals 2014-15 season started they were expecting to take on the likes of Rich Clune and Viktor Stålberg as they wound up doing. As such, Gaudreau was frequently healthy scratched and also split time between the Admirals at the AHL level and with their ECHL affiliate the Cincinnati Cyclones.
In 2014-15, Gaudreau scored 11 points (4 points, 7 assists) in 43 AHL games for the Admirals and 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists) in 14 ECHL games for the Cyclones. That’s a combined season total of 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 57 games.
What stands out from that first pro season was what came at the end of an exhausting and painful Admirals season that saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural AHL playing season of 2001-02. The team was sputtering. The performances fluctuated on a nightly basis with wins alluding the team time and time again. Yet, there was a kid rocking the #89 that spent his April of 2015 working his butt off shift-after-shift – game-after-game. In an angry and disappointing end to the season Gaudreau’s work rate in the face of the Admirals missing the playoffs was a true bright spot. The team might have been struggling but he played with a fire and a spark that the Admirals desperately missed when Miikka Salomäki went down for the rest of the season and Brendan Leipsic was traded away – all on the same day. That display and effort wasn’t unnoticed. Gauadreau would sign the second professional contract of his career by signing another AHL contract with the Admirals.
On opening night of the 2015-16 Admirals season Gaudreau found himself where he so often did at the AHL level the season prior. Gaudreau was a healthy scratch. To this point, it is the one and only game that he hasn’t played in for the Admirals this season and there is a good reason for why that’s the case. He has been phenomenal. Gaudreau’s skill set appeared to be that of a very good skating defensively fine tuned player. He looked great on the penalty kill and stationed on the lower operating lines for the Admirals. As this season has progressed Gaudreau kept climbing up the ladder with solid performances and saw himself being tasked with larger roles. His offensive game really opened up and it appeared that the fire he displayed late in the Admirals 2014-15 season had manifested itself on a whole other level this season.
“His last two hockey games that he played for us, we were out of the playoffs, we played him a ton,” said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason back on 11/20/15. “We asked him to translate his skill level from practice into the games. He did that those last two hockey games. It’s funny to say that but he’s brought those two hockey games into training camp, was real good, and has continued that through the year. [Gaudreau] is a guy that, if you watch him in practice and off the ice, he is intense. He trains. He plays practices – trains all the same way. And it’s allowed him to have success. He has great skill. His hands are great. He does so many real good things out there. But he has earned what he is getting out there right now.”
Where Gaudreau’s season to this point can best be showcased came right around the same time when Admirals team captain Colton Sissons was recalled by the Nashville Predators on 11/26/15. It was at this point when a player that was healthy scratched on opening night, who started as a fourth line winger, suddenly worked himself into the roles of the team’s captain and he was succeeding. From the day of Sissons recall to where Gaudreau finds himself today, playing on the wing with Sissons on the Admirals top line, he has produced 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 19 games while averaging 2.1 shots on goal per game. But what goes missing behind those fancy numbers is his work rate on the penalty kill alongside Félix Girard. His work at center winning faceoffs. His creativity on the power-play. His defensive contributions in all three zones of the ice. It’s a cliché expression but true: he doesn’t take a shift off. It’s a mentality like that which sees a Salomäki in Nashville. It’s a work rate such as Gaudreau’s that has Viktor Arvidsson in Nashville. Which begged the question. Why not Gaudreau?
That question was given a hard answer yesterday. Gaudreau signed his third career professional contract and first with the title NHL attached to it. He penned a two-year entry level contract. It was a contract that wasn’t handed out like a reward. Gaudreau earned it in the same manner he has worked from junior hockey to the Admirals top performer in 2015-16. He earned it through hard work.
The Admirals are 36 games deep into this season. Gaudreau currently leads the team in scoring with 24 points (9 goals, 15 assists) from 35 games played – which already has last season’s combined scoring total in the dust. His work rate on the Admirals power-play, a role he wasn’t utilized in last season, has seen him produce 15 power-play points (6 goals, 9 assists) – points that dwarf is overall scoring total in his debut AHL season in 8 games less work.
In the space of 24 hours Gaudreau should have gone from a relative unknown to fans of the Nashville Predators that they should very seriously start paying attention to in Milwaukee. What Gaudreau has to offer is a full-slate of skills on the puck, the defensive smarts to be a quality penalty killer, and an ever-growing offensive game that has won over the coaching staff to push him into roles he never could have dreamed of a season ago and is excelling in. Put Gaudreau on your radar, Nashville. Put him on your radar because he worked hard enough to put himself on the Predators radar in order to sign him to an NHL contract.
If Gaudreau was driven to play professional hockey with the dream of playing NHL hockey, going undrafted, signing an AHL contract, playing ECHL hockey, and playing AHL hockey as hard as he does – I greatly look forward to seeing how Gaudreau plays with that dream now dangling within an arm’s reach for him to clutch and run with it. The hard work to get there has gotten him here. Now the real work for Gaudreau begins.