By Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat Archive
On every player’s journey to the National Hockey League, there are few milestones more significant than signing your first player contract.
That is especially true for undrafted players, such as Milwaukee Admirals forward Frederick Gaudreau, who must prove their worth in the American Hockey League to earn their shot to compete at hockey’s highest level.
Gaudreau has done that and more with surprising Milwaukee (26-13-3-0—55 points) this season, rocketing up the charts to take his place as the team’s leading scorer. For his efforts, the Bromont, Quebec-native got to sign on the dotted line with the Nashville Predators on January 5, 2016.
“It’s great that Nashville gave me the opportunity to sign a contract and it shows they are happy with the way I’m working down here in the AHL,” said Gaudreau, who seems destined to play in the NHL in the not so distant future. “(However), I’m not looking at the big dream of playing in the NHL right away. For sure it’s there on my mind but there are lot more steps to climb to reach that level.”
Certainly, his coach believes Gaudreau’s play warranted a new contract.
“I think it is an awesome accomplishment for a free agent signee who played games in the ECHL last year,” Admirals coach Dean Evason said of Gaudreau’s new contract. “[Frederick] went about his business and played hard wherever he’s been. We’ve seen his skill level in practice for a couple of years now and it hadn’t translated into games until this year.”
It’s been a meteoric rise for Milwaukee’s surprising star. After going undrafted, Gaudreau singed an AHL contract in the summer of 2014 and then spent last year shuttling between the Admirals and Cincinnati. This season the 22-year-old wasn’t even in Milwaukee’s opening night lineup as he was held out as healthy scratch. Yet, Gaudreau persevered and was rewarded with a pair of belated Christmas presents—an NHL contract and an AHL All-Star Classic selection in the same week.
“It is going to be fun to play and represent Milwaukee at the AHL All-Star Classic,” said Gaudreau. “But at the end of the day it is because we have a good team and it’s because of my teammates that I’m able to play well this year and get the chance to go there and compete.”
Though Gaudreau remained anonymous until this season, he had a solid hockey resume dating back to three years of play in the QMJHL. During his first junior season (2011-12), Gaudreau played a small role on a 45-win Shawinigan Cataractes squad that advanced to second round of the league’ playoffs, but then came out of nowhere to win the Memorial Cup on home ice. The center tallied 20 points that season, and then 43 the following year on a squad that plummeted to second-to-last place.
Hardly on anyone’s watch list at that point, Gaudreau broke out in a big way during the 2013-14 campaign, finishing with 71 points combined between Shawinigan and Drummondville. The then 20-year-old led the Voltigeurs with 10 goals and 14 points during their two-round playoff run.
Admirals General Manager Paul Fenton was intrigued enough by Gaudreau to take a chance on the undrafted prospect and sign him to a one-year AHL contract. As a rookie professional Gaudreau picked up 11 points in 43 games with the Admirals and added another seven in 14 games with Cincinnati. Though not overwhelming, it was enough to warrant another year in the organization.
When presented with a larger opportunity with Milwaukee as this year progressed, Gaudreau came into his own this as the offensive leader of the young and maturing Admirals.
“[Frederick] is a guy that if you watch him in practice and off the ice, he is intense,” said Evason. “He plays, practices and trains all the same way, and it’s allowed him to have success.”
Gaudreau racked up four goals and five points in November as his team rattled off a franchise record 10-game win streak and 11-game points streak. The 22-year-old was even more dominant in December, adding 12 more points as Milwaukee jumped to the top the AHL’s Western Conference standings.
“[Frederick] has great skill, his hands are great, [and he] does so many real good things out there,” Evason said. “He has earned all the points [and the accolades] he’s getting.”
Due to a month-long call up to Nashville, Admirals forward Colton Sissons missed most of Gaudreau’s impressive December. But Milwaukee’s captain certainly kept tabs on number 89.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about his play during my call up to Nashville,” said Sissons. “When I came back to Milwaukee, I was happy to see my name up on the board next to him because he’s playing great hockey.”
Currently, Gaudreau leads all Admirals with 18 assists and 27 points in 41 games.
“It’s nice to see guys on our team get recognized for having good starts to the year,” Milwaukee forward Max Reinhart said of Gaudreau’s All-Star selection. “[Freddy’s] been playing very well and deserves the honor of representing our team.”
Gaudreau was to be joined by his coach Dean Evason and teammate Vladislav Kamenev in Syracuse wearing the Admirals crest. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s talented Russian rookie will have to miss the event due to injury.
“It’s a great honor for Gaudreau and Kamenev (to be selected), and for me to attend the event as coach,” said Evason, who was named Central Division coach due to the fact that Milwaukee had the Central Division’s best record as of January 7. “I’m [proud to] represent the whole organization, Milwaukee and Nashville as well as our team and what we’ve accomplished so far this season.”
Nashville’s recent contract offer cemented Gaudreau’s stunning rise and development as a player. It was also a special moment that the forward couldn’t wait to share with his family.
“[When I found out about the contract] for sure I called my parents, my brother and my sister too, and they were all really happy for me,” said Gaudreau, who was with his girlfriend when he got the happy news. “I feel like they are all living the dream in my story.”
Gaudreau’s achievements represent a nice feather in the cap of an Admirals’ organization that has made a name for itself by developing unheralded prospects. In the past five years players like Victor Bartley and Chris Mueller have made the jump from undrafted professionals to wearing a Predators jersey.
“By finding (unpolished gems like Gaudreau), that tells us first that our organization and our scouts are doing the right things,” said Evason. “These are good hockey players and good people. It also tells us we are doing the right things as far as developing players and making them accountable.”
Until Nashville or another NHL team comes calling with an open roster spot, Gaudreau is going to continue to do everything he can to help the Admirals continue to soar up the AHL standings.
“It was a nice honor to get a new contract, but I’m not really focusing on that and other things that I can’t control.” Gaudreau said. “What I can control is how I practice and to try to get to better with Milwaukee. That is my only focus right now.”