Frederick Gaudreau wasn’t on the Pittsburgh Penguins opening night roster, nor was he one of the first call-ups when the Penguins first needed extra bodies. The former Nashville Predators depth forward who spent the entire 2018-19 in the big show was banished to the AHL for the entirety of last season.
This season, Gaudreau has earned his way back to the NHL and is making a dent with the Penguins at a crucial point in their season.
“I just try to do my job every day and whatever happens, happens,” Gaudreau said. “But it’s for sure fun. You know, it’s for sure fun that it’s coming with success.”
In a small sample size, Gaudreau is scoring at a career pace. His four points include one goal in eight games. Gaudreau has not only worked his way onto the Penguins roster, but he has filled in well for injured third-line center Teddy Blueger. Gaudreau leapfrogged center Mark Jankowski for the job and has added new skills to his game.
One of those “new” skills is playing on the penalty kill. Becoming a part of the Penguins PK has upped his ice time in Blueger’s absence to over 17 minutes per game.
And the Penguins have won five in a row.
“I believe I can be (a regular contributor) again. Their decision is their decision, but I for sure believe I can be one of those guys,” Gaudreau said. “I played in a tough situation before and pressure situations. And I feel comfortable in those. I feel excited about those challenging situations. And yeah, for sure, I feel like it can be one of those guys.”
One of those big situations was six games you may remember well. Gaudreau was a member of the 2017 Nashville Predators whom the Pittsburgh Penguins throttled in the Stanley Cup Final for the second of the Penguins back-to-back championships.
Gaudreau played only eight playoff games in the Nashville run, but six of those were in the Stanley Cup Final, and Gaudreau scored three goals against the Penguins.
But when Frederick Gaudreau got a full-time shot in the NHL in 2018-19, he scored just four points (3g, 1a) in 55 games. That is when his odyssey began with 42 games for Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
He scored a healthy 28 points with 11 goals in 42 games last season. Then played the first six games this season with the Penguins AHL affiliate WBS Penguins. Gaudreau had four points (1g, 3a) in those six games before joining the Pittsburgh Penguins taxi squad.
He joined the Penguins active roster as centers began dropping—injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Teddy Blueger, and additional forward injuries created a need and space.
Gaudreau has filled that space well. It may be surprising to you and me, but not to him.
“My focus was just to come back at this level, just to try to work on many different things skills-wise, strength-wise, also to be more calm on the ice instead of being more stressed,” said Gaudreau. “So those are all things I worked on. Those are all things that I feel more comfortable with…
So, yeah. Gaudreau has done those things. Not only has Gaudreau put points on the board and added PK duties, but the entire line is scoring. Gaudreau has a couple of assists on Zach Aston-Reese’s goals, including a dazzling shorthanded setup. And Gaudreau’s name appears on the score sheet with Radim Zohorna’s first NHL goal, too.
And Gaudreau is quickly getting into the Penguins culture as he continues to produce and earn head coach Mike Sullivan’s trust. Sullivan rewards players on their game and quickly removes depth players who aren’t–ask winger Sam Lafferty who was quickly shuffled out of the lineup after a few mistakes last month.
“It’s just the passion. Today’s practice–everybody comes up with a smile and working hard in every drill. And when it’s game day, it’s the same thing,” Gaudreau said. “Everybody’s passionate about hockey, you can just feel it, and it’s everybody joining that circle that makes that group special. I feel like it’s fun to be part of that.”
Gaudreau is gaining more ice time, and that initial adrenaline jump from joining the big show has worn off by now. His performance has drawn praises from Sullivan, too.
He wasn’t the third or fourth line center the Penguins expected, but he’s the one doing the job. Gaudreau is like found money and could even affect the Penguins heading toward the April 12 NHL trade deadline.