There is something fitting about Frédérick Gaudreau rising to the occasion for the Nashville Predators. Whether it be late in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks or against the defending Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals: Gaudreau just isn’t one to waste an opportunity.
In fact, even prior to joining the Milwaukee Admirals as an undrafted free agent, it’s these kind of moments where Gaudreau tends to shine his brightest and excel.
Where the Gaudreau story starts is with a loving family that supported his career path to take playing hockey seriously. A try-out under the watch of Shawinigan Cataractes head coach Éric Veilleux went very well but his opportunity to play in college would have been forfeited in the process of joining the Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) team. Gaudreau was heavily leaning towards exiting the junior ranks. He didn’t want to lose his chance to pursue the avenues that college could present. He told Cataractes scout Alain Bissonnette that he needed to leave for college. Shortly after that discussion Gaudreau’s name would appear atop the list of players to have a meeting with the coaching staff to address the situation. They informed him that there was a spot for him on the team. What came first would be a conversation between Gaudreau and his family. What would follow would be Gaudreau’s first season of junior hockey which ended in him winning the 2011-12 CHL Memorial Cup with Shawinigan.
Gaudreau’s path after that special moment wasn’t always the clearest. As phenomenal as that first year in the QMJHL was with Shawinigan it wasn’t always to be that way. The next season Shawinigan failed to make the QMJHL Playoffs. The season after that Gaudreau was traded in the QMJHL to the Drummondville Voltigeurs at the end of November-2013 in exchange for a first-round pick in 2015, a second-round pick in 2014 (which belonged to the Halifax Mooseheads), and Antoine Kilanowski. Gaudreau was suddenly thrust into a new system and opportunity with Drummondville to showcase what he was capable of. He responded with arguably his best run in the QMJHL in just over a half season of work: 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 36 games with a plus/minus rating of +14 and only a single minor penalty to his name. In the 2014 QMJHL Playoffs he recorded 14 points (10 goals, 4 assists) in 11 games which included an amazing 5 goal performance in the opening round’s deciding Game Five against the Victoriaville Tigres. Gaudreau and Drummondville would fall in a six-game series the next round against Val-d’Or Foreurs.
When Gaudreau’s junior career came to an end there was never much draft talk to be done despite having such a strong finish to his time in the QMJHL. The NHL Draft came and went. It wasn’t to be. And, nearly three-years ago, on 11 June, 2014, Gaudreau would sign his first career professional contract: a one-year AHL deal with the Milwaukee Admirals for the 2014-15 season.
Without getting into the massive details. The Admirals and the 2014-15 season didn’t get along. It was a season that ended a run of twelve consecutive playoff appearances for the Admirals. And also one that saw Gaudreau spending time between the AHL with the Admirals either on the ice or as a healthy scratch or in the ECHL as a member of the Cincinnati Cyclones. In total, he produced 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 57 games between the AHL and ECHL in his first professional playing season.
It can easily be frustrating for a young player to find themselves so far down the pecking order and in the ECHL after having such a stellar time in either juniors or college. For Gaudreau, he slowly found himself while spending time with the Cyclones and started developing a positive mindset focused on what he can actually control: his game.
As awful as that 2014-15 season for the Admirals felt by the end of the campaign there was a player that entered the lineup before it ended that was a breath of fresh air for how hard he was working. It was Gaudreau. Knowing how hard he practiced, Admirals head coach Dean Evason placed Gaudreau back into the lineup before the season ended urging him to play with the same intensity he displayed in practice. That last weekend of the regular season could have been a blur for everyone as things went so sour. Gaudreau handled those games as if he was making a statement for the season ahead. The Admirals would re-sign Gaudreau to a new one-year AHL contract on 21 May, 2015. It wouldn’t take him as long to make good on that statement.
When the 2015-16 season dawned in the AHL for the Admirals it did so with Gaudreau oddly sitting out as a healthy scratch for the season opener. He would proceed to play every single game after that. The exact moment that it was impossible to ignore just how good Gaudreau was came following a recall by the Predators of the Admirals captain Colton Sissons on 10 November, 2015. It was this recall that presented Gaudreau an opportunity to be thrust into Sissons’ top center role for the Admirals. What he did next was a sign of things to come: he excelled. In the time Sissons was recalled and reassigned by the Predators Gaudreau produced 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 5 games. He would add a further 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in the space of Sissons following recall and reassignment by the Predators in the span of 14 games. Gaudreau producing offensively was the eyebrow raising part. What he arrived with and showed so well was incredible skating ability and lockdown defensive awareness. Once Gaudreau’s skills on offense started to make its way to the ice he was undeniable for the two accolades that followed: being named to the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic and signing his first career NHL contract good for two-years through the Nashville Predators.
Gaudreau was a headline act on an Admirals team that had won the 2015-16 AHL Central Division crown. He ended the season having massively eclipsed his rookie scoring total: 42 points (15 goals, 27 assists) in 75 games. How would he respond the next season now that he wasn’t some great mystery and that the door to the NHL was within grasp? The same way he always does: he excelled. Gaudreau was nearly scoring goal-for-goal alongside Pontus Åberg during the 2016-17 season with the Admirals in the AHL. The moment he was put opposite wing to Anthony Richard with Mike Ribeiro centering the line? Things shot into the stratosphere for Gaudreau and resulted in a 48 point season with 25 goals and 23 assists.
Uncertainty over a junior playing career has lead to a chain of events that end up with a CHL Memorial Cup, going undrafted, two AHL contracts, an AHL All-Star appearance, and an NHL Contract. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Gaudreau in the NHL this season. Sure, his NHL debut came when the Predators should have went for the special instead of the soup and everyone went ill with food poisoning. But he belonged. Gaudreau has belonged in the NHL for awhile now. All that he has needed is the opportunity to show just how good he really is. There shouldn’t be surprise once that opportunity came in the form of a season ending injury to Ryan Johansen that Gaudreau would seize it and excel. It’s who he is. It’s what he does. And he’s just getting started.
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