How Nashville Predators' Frederick Gaudreau went from AHL castoff to playoff star

Author: Nationalpost.com
Date: Jul 4, 2017

PITTSBURGH — There was no demand to sign Frederick Gaudreau. There was only one crummy offer, take it or leave it.

He would be paid $40,000 if he played for the Milwaukee Admirals, the minimum salary then in the American Hockey League. He would make half that much if he played for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Those were his options. He had already been passed over in two NHL drafts, just as he was passed over in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft.

There would be no signing bonus for him in 2013. There was no guarantees of anything but a chance. Just a chance. He could be let go without warning. The rest was up to him.

When Paul Fenton travelled to Victoriaville, Que., to watch Gaudreau play a junior hockey game, it was after he had been convinced by Nashville Predators chief scout Jeff Kealty and his regional scouts, Tom Nolan and J.P. Glaude, that Gaudreau was a player of some value.

Fenton, the longtime assistant to general manager David Poile, watched him play once and gave his nod of approval.

“You could see he had hockey smarts,” Fenton said. “I thought he needed to improve his speed. But the more you watch him, the more you realize there is nothing wrong with his speed. It’s his stride. At first glance, it didn’t look right.

“I played with (former NHLer) Bernie Nicholls. He didn’t look like he was going fast in transition, but he was. I think Freddy is a little bit like that. The more you watch Freddy, the more you appreciate everything he can do and everything about him. He makes plays, he has great posture and he’s got great hockey sense. We’re very fortunate to have him.

“This kid is so humble and so focused. You sometimes say someone is a special person or a special player, but this guy is that.”

The centre who cost almost nothing is lighting it up in the Stanley Cup final. Midway through the original deal he signed with the club’s AHL affiliate, the Preds took the next step. If Gaudreau had remained on an AHL contract, he would have been available to be snatched for free by any NHL team. Fenton decided to close that loophole.

“I was at the (2016) world junior in Finland and we made the decision we had to sign him to an NHL contract,” Fenton said. “Every time we would talk about our AHL team and who we would call up, his name would came up. And you can’t call up a player up on an AHL contract. I told David (Poile), ‘we have to sign this guy before we lose him.’”

The kid they call Freddy Hockey inked an unspectacular contract with the Predators in the first days of 2016. This time, he got a signing bonus — all of $20,000, and a minor-league raise from $40,000 to $60,000 a year.

Should he play in the NHL, as he did nine times this season, he would be paid just over $80,000 for those games on a $595,000 contract. In total, over three seasons, the Predators have paid a ridiculously low figure of around $240,000 for a man who so far has scored a team-leading three of their 13 goals in the final.

By comparison, the top three picks in the 2012 NHL draft, in which Gaudreau was not chosen, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray and Alex Galchenyuk, have been paid more than $20 million NHL dollars to date. They combined for four playoff goals, all of them by Galchenyuk in the first round.

“I don’t think any of us are shocked by what he’s doing,” said Dean Evason, the longtime NHL player and bench boss who is head coach of the Milwaukee AHL team. “Especially those of us who saw him every day.

“He’s always had a skill set that is above average. The problem he had was confidence. He didn’t seem to believe in himself. He’d do all kinds of things in practice and then the game would start and he wouldn’t do them. We had to send him down to the ECHL for him to start believing in himself.

“We’d watch him every day and think, ‘This guy is a player’ and it took time to convince him he was a player. Some people thought his speed wasn’t good enough, but I disputed that. I’d watch him every day. He wasn’t slow — his stride makes him look slow. He’s not the most fluid skater, but he actually has really good speed.

“A lot of times, when players get called up, they don’t show what they can do. They’re too nervous. They’re too worried about making a mistake. They get the wrong spot in the lineup. They don’t always get the right opportunity. Sometimes it takes time for a player to find his place. This is Freddy’s time and we couldn’t be happier for him.”

Subtle brilliance from Ellis led to Gaudreau’s biggest goal (so far)

The wraparound goal Frederick Gaudreau scored in Game 4 was probably the highlight of his short time in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But Paul Fenton sees the play in a different light.

“Ryan Ellis does a great job of looking off the shot and making a Larry Murphy off-the-end-wall kind of play,” said Fenton, the Predators’ assistant general manager.

“He confused Murray by doing that. The non-shot confused a lot of people and Freddy had a 50-50 battle for the loose puck. Before that, he and Ryan made eye contact, and I said to the guy beside me when he didn’t shoot, ‘What a play.’ Freddy got body position and he did the wraparound for the goal.”

The goal made Murray look slow going post to post. Fenton defends the Pittsburgh goalie on the play. He said the read Ellis made confused Pittsburgh and enabled Gaudreau to score.

“Freddy made a good play there,” he said. “Ryan made a great play. It’s not what everybody would notice. That’s the kind of thing Ryan does.”

Much has been made of the chair near the wall in the Nashville dressing room at Bridgestone Arena. As a recent call-up — he scored three goals and added an assist in three AHL playoff games — there wasn’t a stall for him to change. The training staff created one instead, with a chair, a small table and a name plate.

Some players would be embarrassed by this. Some would be angered. Some would hate the attention it produced. Gaudreau hasn’t said a negative word about it.

“He doesn’t care where he sits,” said Evason, who played 803 NHL games himself. “You give him a jersey and he goes out and plays. That kind of attitude has really served him well. He doesn’t care who he plays with, where he is, where he’s sitting, he’s just a hockey player. He’s a real pro, and to me, that’s a compliment. He has skill on the ice, attitude and personality off the ice. And he’s one of the nicest guys in our dressing room, one of the classiest guys.”

Gaudreau was a 50-goal scorer in junior — 50 goals over three seasons in the QMJHL. That hardly got him noticed. He scored nine times in his first pro season, 15 times in his second season, and his wraparound goal on Penguins goalie Matt Murray in Game 4 was his 31st goal of this hockey season, most of them coming in Milwaukee. Three of them coming in six playoff games for the Preds since Ryan Johansen went down for the season.

“For all of us in player development, this is just tremendous,” Evason said. “Everybody feels a little part of this. The scouts who saw him. The coaches who helped develop him. We all feel a sense of excitement and pride.

“But give Freddy all the credit. It’s his hard work. It’s the dedication he put in. There’s a God-given skill that he has, but to me, it’s the other stuff he has shown that’s made the difference. The attitude. The work ethic. I’m getting text messages from a lot of our players in Milwaukee. Everybody is excited for him. We’re all feeling a part of this.

“Freddy Gaudreau was the hardest worker in our practice every day. We’re all so happy for him.”

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