NASHVILLE – Frederick Gaudreau, Stanley Cup final hero, has one of those stories that starts with, “Now, all you kids out there…”
Gaudreau’s is a story about not giving up on dreams. Here he is, owner of back-to-back game-winning goals in the Stanley Cup final. Never drafted, either into the QMJHL or the NHL, Gaudreau worked himself up from an invite to a spot in a Predators’ development camp to a minor league contract to a two-way deal to starring on the biggest stage in the hockey world at the age of 24.
In fact, Gaudreau is so obscure that he has yet to even earn a stall in the Predators dressing room. After all, the last thing the organization wants to do is to give this kid an inflated sense of self.
“I could be sitting on the floor and I would take it,” Gaudreau said. “I’m just happy to be here. I don’t really care about the stall, to be honest.”
After the road Gaudreau has taken to get to the NHL, having somewhere to hang his street clothes is the least of his worries. Gaudreau made the Shawinigan Cataractes as a walk-on out of midget hockey in 2011 and played sparingly for the team that won the Memorial Cup that season. Gaudreau continued to toil away in the QMJHL, winning the league’s most sportsmanlike player award in 2013-14. It was also that season that a Predators’ bird dog by the name of Jean-Philippe Glaude, who has a day job as a recruiter for the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres, implored Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton to come and take a look at Gaudreau.
To that point, scouts thought he was too small, not productive enough, not a good enough skater.
“He doesn’t look like he’s fast enough, that’s the thing,” Fenton said. “You have to watch him a lot to appreciate him.”
(We’d love to tell you what Glaude saw in Gaudreau that made him make that call to Fenton. But when we approached the Predators about speaking to him, we were told the following: “Thanks for reaching out. Our organizational policy is that individual scouts do not speak to the media.” And the NHL wonders why it’s No. 4 among the big four professional sports in North America.)
The Predators have never been strangers to diamonds in the rough, going back to when they took Pekka Rinne 258th overall in 2004 after Rinne had been passed over in three drafts. They got Craig Smith 98th overall in 2009 after Smith had been passed over in the two previous drafts and four picks later took Mattias Ekholm. Viktor Arvidsson went through three drafts without being taken before the Predators got him 112th overall in 2014. So the thought of going to Quebec to see a player who had drawn no NHL interest to that point was not a huge leap of faith for Fenton.
“Smarts,” Fenton said is what he saw in Gaudreau the first time he watched him play. “That’s what we base almost everything we do here on and his hockey sense was just great. He settles things down, he has great puck management, he has great stick positioning and he always makes people go through him in the defensive zone. Even though he’s not the biggest guy, he’s the guy who just always does the right thing.”
Like so many other players the Predators have put in the NHL, the development path went through Milwaukee. Gaudreau spent three full seasons with the Predators’ AHL farm team before coming up for nine games this season. People talk about the Detroit Red Wings and their prospects being over-ripe, but the Predators are right there with them. And by the time the player comes up to the big team, he’s uniquely equipped to play in the NHL and that did not go unnoticed by Gaudreau’s teammates. Of course it’s hard not to notice when he makes his playoff debut in Game 6 of the Western Conference final against the Anaheim Ducks not having played in a month and then winning 10 of 14 faceoffs.
“He’s a great kid and he works so hard, he takes care of himself and he pays attention to the details,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. “And I think that’s the difference for him. He understands. When he came into the Anaheim series, we were having trouble in the faceoff circle and he was 70 percent that first game, he was unbelievable. As a defenseman, knowing we’re going to start with the puck every time he’s on the ice is great and it makes a big difference for us. People talk about the goals, but he does all those little things and you have to watch to notice him.”
Getting noticed should no longer be a problem for Gaudreau, a young man who is finally getting some attention after being ignored for so long. Perhaps he’ll even get his own stall soon.
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