It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #10, Freddy Hockey.
It’s a very encouraging sign that a player so high (or low - however you measure) has already made a big impact in the NHL with room to grow. What’s even more remarkable about Frederick Gaudreau is that he’s been a good player wherever he’s gone and is still flying under many radars.
Gaudreau’s story is pretty familiar in the Nashville community, but I’ll provide a quick recap anyway. He began his junior career in 2011-12 with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL and finished the season with 20 points in 64 games. The next season, after going undrafted for the second season in a row, he improved to 43 points in 68 games. The summer of 2013 did not yield any NHL landing spots, but Gaudreau continued on as a reliable contributer in 2013-14. He scored 31 points in 27 games for Shawinigan before being traded to Drummondville and finishing with another 40 points in 36 games. Those aren’t exactly elite numbers in the offense-friendly QMJHL, but 134 points in 195 career games is better than a lot of NHL draftees in the past.
The Milwaukee Admirals signed Gaudreau to an AHL contract for the 2014-15 season. He split time between Milwaukee and Cincinnati, finishing his first pro season with a total of 18 points in 57 games in the AHL & ECHL. The Admirals re-signed Gaudreau for the 2015-16 season, and he responded with play that started to turn some heads. He finished that year with 15 goals and 42 points in 75 games. Gaudreau’s production earned him an entry-level contract with Nashville in January of 2016 and eventually, 9 regular season games in Nashville during the 2016-17 season. Although 48 points in 66 games last season isn’t elite, his 25 goals on the season are on par with the likes of Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala.
By now, everyone knows Gaudreau’s NHL story. The kid who was never drafted in the QMJHL or NHL and who was noticed by one quasi-scout scored his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup Final - two of them were game winners. But now that the secret is out of the bag, what can we expect from Gaudreau with more exposure in the NHL? In his limited NHL showing, he did a decent job of driving possession with dependent, fourth-line players like Salomaki, McLeod and Zolnierczyk as seen below:
In terms of production, he won’t be a point per game player, but he did shoot at a high volume in the playoffs considering his frequent linemates. Depending on if he plays at center or wing, Gaudreau will be relied on to drive the play or put goals home in the slot on a, hopefully, improved fourth-line.
He may still have a tough time finding consistent ice time in Nashville this year, but he might not. He’s shown that, in a small sample size, he can produce on a big stage with relatively poor linemates, and he plays all three forward positions with exceptional hockey smarts. In summary, we could be cheering on Freddy Hockey regularly in Nashville very soon.
Gaudreau plays a very well-rounded game. His awareness and smarts won’t be questioned. He plays very well around the net and gets good results in the faceoff circle (although that may need work at the NHL level). He isn’t overly fast or physical but he is a gifted passer and a good finisher with underrated hands. His defense is stout for the most part as he does well breaking up passes and keeping the opposition outside the slot.
Where Gaudreau lands at the start of the season will be a big storyline to watch. He could easily start and finish the season as the Preds’ fourth line center, but he could also start the season in Milwaukee and work his way into the lineup like Kevin Fiala has done. Regardless, he should be a solid contributer for the Preds for a while.
Gaudreau signed his second NHL contract this summer for three years. It is a two-way deal that pays him $70 K in the AHL and $650 K in the NHL with an NHL cap hit of $666.7 K. Upon expiry, he will be an unrestricted free agent.
All stats courtesy of eliteprospects.com. All salary information courtesy of capfriendly.com.