He’s tied for the team lead with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 51 games, and on Jan. 5th the Predators signed the undrafted 22-year-old to his first NHL contract.
“Everything is going so fast for me and the team,” Gaudreau said earlier this month. “I got the first NHL contract and invited to the All-Star game, while the team has been very good and it’s been a good opportunity for me.”
So, who is this undrafted kid that grabbed an opportunity and earned an NHL contract in the middle of the 2015-16 season?
In a league built around development and prospects, Gaudreau has been one of the AHL’s best stories this season. After going undrafted and finishing his career in the QMJHL, he was signed to an AHL contract by Milwaukee before the 2014-15 season.
He was good, but not great, that season as he registered 11 points in 43 games, while he also played 14 games in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones. He was signed to another AHL contract before the 2015-16 season started and was expected to provide AHL depth, possibly even spending a little bit of time in the ECHL.
In fact, Gaudreau was a healthy scratch on opening night and watched as the Admirals lost to the Chicago Wolves.
That was the last game he missed. He was inserted into the lineup for Milwaukee’s second game and had an assist against the Charlotte Checkers, starting a streak that established Gaudreau as one of the team’s most consistent forwards.
The native of Bromont, Quebec is a natural center, but can play the wing when needed. He is a hard-working player who is reliable on the penalty kill and in defensive situations, while his offensive game has flourished in his second professional season.
Gaudreau said he is a “pass-first” player, but he has the proper instincts around the net. Earlier this month he netted his first career hat trick and led Milwaukee to a 4-3 victory against the Rockford IceHogs.
His success has not surprised his coach in Milwaukee, who had a rave review for Gaudreau when speaking at the AHL All-Star Classic earlier this month.
“He’s went about his business and played hard on every shift,” Admirals coach Dean Evason said. “I think we’ve seen what he can do in practice on the offensive level and it’s starting to show in games this season.”
And eventually, Gaudreau could be playing NHL games in Nashville.
While other prospects are above him on the immediate organizational depth chart or have more hype – including Kevin Fiala and Vladislav Kamenev – Gaudreau is working his way up the Predators’ list of top prospects, and the low-risk signing could reap big rewards.
If Gaudreau has his eyes on the big picture, it is only in private. After working his way from anonymity to NHL prospect, he is not changing his approach or mentality in Milwaukee.
“I’m just worried about games and practice in Milwaukee,” Gaudreau said. “My focus right now is being the best player I can be and get better.”
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