SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. - Tyler Gaudet was in a far different place at this time last year.
He was toiling in the Central Canadian League for the Pembroke Lumber Kings, his NHL prospects looking dim after being cut from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Gatineau Olympiques.
It's been a far better November for Gaudet in 2013. After a point-a-game start with the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the undrafted centre from Hamilton signed an entry-level deal this month with the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.
"It's been a crazy year," Gaudet said. "I've had my downs, being with Gatineau and then getting sent down. I knew my road to try to play pro hockey was going to be difficult and long."
Gaudet's turnaround can be contributed in part to former NHL player Sheldon Keefe, who was the owner, president, general manager and head coach of the Lumber Kings when Gaudet arrived in Pembroke.
Keefe was fired by the Greyhounds on Dec. 3, 2012, after team had relieved former coach Mike Stapleton of his duties.
Just 10 days later, Gaudet was on his way to Sault Ste. Marie to try to make a final impression on a major junior organization.
"I was expecting to play Junior A the whole time but luckily Sheldon brought me up," Gaudet said. "I just wanted to keep playing my game and playing it hard. I wasn't expecting it to happen this fast."
Gaudet had three goals and five assists in 34 games with the Greyhounds last season, but did enough things right to come back as an over-ager.
"Last year he came in and did whatever was asked of him," said Keefe. "He executed very well in the role that we had him in. This year he felt a lot more comfortable right from the get-go starting fresh with a new team as one of the oldest players. Last year we had a veteran club that had been together for a few years so he never necessarily got comfortable."
He's established himself as a key part of the Grethounds this year, scoring 11 goals and adding 16 assists in 25 games, with a defensive rating of plus-12.
"His story is a great one," Keefe said. "It was a pretty unconventional way to get to an NHL contract. Certainly there's a level of pride when you're along for the ride with him.
"Really I was just a passenger in the journey for him. Right from the time he came down from Gatineau of the Quebec League to come play Junior A, he just arrived with a great attitude and which is rare for a player coming down from major junior to have such a positive attitude."
Gaudet said the spike in his offensive game this season had been the product of more confidence in his game.
"Confidence helps a lot in that aspect," Gaudet said. "Also, just being comfortable with the team and starting out with the team right from training camp and getting to know the guys helps. I wanted to improve that role myself. I worked during the summer on my offence a lot and I wanted to focus on that part of my game and develop it."
Keefe credited the 20-year-old with working to improve his game during the summer.
"He's obviously taken great strides in his offensive game," said Keefe. "The credit goes to him. It would have been very easy for him to just settle in to being a defensive forward. Everyone in our organization would have been happy with that."
Phoenix plans to have the six-foot-three, 200 pound Gaudet finish out the season with the Greyhounds before joining the Coyotes organization, most likely with the American Hockey League's Portland Pirates.
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