You can forgive Moncton Wildcats fans for not recognizing the solid yet undersized and speedy winger wearing the No. 13 jersey for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens during Game 1 of the two teams’ first-round playoff series. The nameplate above the number – Boudreau – probably wasn’t much of an identifier either, particularly since the player hadn’t been seen in any of the previous meetings between the two teams this season.
But on March 26th (Game 1 of the series), despite a Sagueneens loss, No. 13 recorded an assist, five shots on goal, a minor penalty, and was heavily involved in driving the pace of play. Surprisingly, it was Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau’s first game in five months.
A second round pick by the San Jose Sharks in the 2013 NHL Draft, Boudreau dressed in just seven games for the Sagueneens in the regular season. In his first three games, the McMasterville, QC native recorded seven points, providing the offensive spark and grit he was expected to bring when acquired from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the offseason.
The setback – for both Boudreau and the team – came in mid-October, when the skilled winger suffered what he called a “weird” injury involving one of the tendons in his hand.
“The doctor said he never seen anything like this before,” Boudreau added, following an off-day skate between Games 1 and 2.
The layoff was far-and-away the longest that he had been forced out of the lineup at any point throughout his hockey career. Missing a game or two can be tough, but practically an entire season, in what is likely his final year in junior, was another matter.
“It was obviously very hard, but at the end of the day I can’t really focus on that. The past is the past; the injury was pretty bad but I can’t do anything about it.”
Fortunately, the injury only restricted Boudreau’s ability to grip a stick and shoot the puck, meaning he was able to remain on skates throughout the length of the injury – and that much was evident when he finally returned to the lineup in time for the playoffs.
“I was training a lot and I was on the ice, but I was on the ice without any pucks – just skating. This was hard mentally, but the guys in the room and everyone helped me a lot. It was good to skate, and now you can see on the ice that I’m in shape.”
In his five playoff games back, Boudreau recorded one goal and six assists, while the Sagueneens were ultra-competitive with the higher-ranked Moncton team in a series ultimately won by the Wildcats, four games to one. The Sagueneens finished the regular season with a 29-32-4-3 record, but the addition of the high-energy Boudreau for the playoffs added depth and excitement to the Sagueneens forward ranks. His work ethic is contagious.
“He worked so hard to get better so it was good to see him back and having a good game,” noted Sagueneens head coach and general manager, Yanick Jean. “I thought he was one of the hardest working guys on our team.”
Jean arrived in Chicoutimi at the end of November from Victoriaville, where he served as general manager. While he didn’t have the opportunity to coach Boudreau in the regular season, he has been a fan since his arrival, and is certain a full 60-plus games with Boudreau would have given the Sagueneens a more favorable first-round playoff opponent.
“I think he would have been an 80-90 point guy,” Jean said, extrapolating the nine points Boudreau accumulated in five-and-a-half games.
That prediction might be a little optimistic, but it’s not far-fetched for a player who, as a 17 year old, scored 63 points in 67 games in his draft year. The following year, however, was a disappointment for Boudreau. The Drakkar reached the QMJHL finals, but his point total dropped to 35.
Boudreau struggled to find the words to explain his decreased production in that season, but admitted a difficult pro camp in San Jose may have gotten to him mentally.
“It was a tough season for sure. I had a lot on my mind; I think I wasn’t in the same kind of role. I was supposed to produce offensively; I had a lot of chances, I just wasn’t able to put up the points I had the year before.”
The decrease in production didn’t affect other aspects of his game, however; in fact, it allowed him to flesh out other areas of his game, including perhaps his favorite aspect – being an uber-pest toward the opposition.
“I like being under the opponent’s skin, a relentless kind of guy,” he said. “The other team doesn’t really like it and I enjoy it. I take pride in it. It’s fun.”
He racked up 81 penalty minutes that season, and, since his return to the Sagueneens lineup for the playoffs, he spent two minutes in the box in three of the five series games. Though he can be forgiven for a bit of over-exuberance after missing five months of game action, he’s also aware that, in order to succeed at the next level, he needs to be a little more composed emotionally. He has the offensive skill set to be a top-six winger, as well as the energy and forechecking ability to round out the bottom six of an NHL forward corps – it’s all about finding a balance.
“Sometimes, like last game, I got a pretty bad penalty, so I have to stay calm – stay focused.”
Boudreau has yet to be signed by the Sharks, and the fact that he missed most of this season following a down year might not be too enticing to the Sharks’ organization, but he has been impressive this season – albeit in a small sample size – and the fact he was taken in the second round alone should warrant a contract.
In fact, without looking past the Moncton Wildcats, when asked what his plans for the summer were, Boudreau didn’t hesitate.
“Gain some weight and get ready to play in the AHL next year.”
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7