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Stanley Cup Final

Frederick Gaudreau making quick impact for Predators in Final

Scored first NHL goal Monday, fitting right in entering Game 2 vs. Penguins

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

PITTSBURGH -- By any logical measure, Frederick Gaudreau should not be here playing in the Stanley Cup Final, let alone scoring an important goal for the Nashville Predators.

Gaudreau was never drafted, not even in junior, but found a way to play with Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he was noticed by Predators scout Jean-Philippe Glaude, who convinced assistant general manager Paul Fenton to make the trip to Drummondville, Quebec, and watch him in 2013.

He was immediately hooked.

"He's just a hockey player, once you watch him play you just know it," Fenton said Tuesday, one day after Gaudreau scored the tying goal in the third period of the Predators' 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1. "He's got great feel for where the puck is going to go. He already knows where it's going. He's waiting for it. He's ahead of the game as far as where things are going to go. He might angle somebody in the exact correct way, he might use his stick to take away passing lanes. When you're talking about all the little details that come from a hockey player, that's what he does and that's what makes him a real asset for us."

 

[RELATED: Predators must be great, not good | Penguins need to adjust despite win in opener]

 

Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is here Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

When the Predators lost top center Ryan Johansen for the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a left thigh injury after Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks, it created an opening in the lineup for Gaudreau, who was only recalled to the Predators from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on April 29. 

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Gaudreau ties game with first NHL goal

At age 24, that's how valuable an asset he has become, an undrafted free agent replacing a forward who was selected at No. 4 in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"He's come a long way in his career," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "To be here in this situation, you'd think that maybe it might overwhelm him, but it hasn't. He seemed perfectly comfortable [Monday] night inside that game."

Gaudreau had every reason to let Game 1 of the Cup Final overwhelm him. It was his 12th NHL game, his third playoff game, and he was playing on a stage he only could have dreamed of as recently as two years ago when he was playing for Cincinnati of the ECHL.

On top of that, his parents, Jean-Pierre Gaudreau and France Desrosiers, drove 10 hours from their home in Bromont, Quebec, to watch their son play in the NHL for the first time.

All Gaudreau did was score his first NHL goal, one that completed a three-goal comeback to tie the game 3-3 at 13:29 before the Penguins scored the game-winner a little more than three minutes later.

Gaudreau became the first player since Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings on May 30, 2009, to score his first NHL goal in the Final, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Abdelkader did it in Game 1 against the Penguins.

Video: Frederick Gaudreau talks to Jamie Hersch on Game 1

Gaudreau said after the game he gladly would have traded that goal for a win, but he was able to recognize a day later how special it was for him to have his parents there when it happened.

"My parents just held me in their arms and told me how proud of me they were," Gaudreau said. "I don't think they completely realized what was happening. They drove all day [Monday] to get here, they even did an interview, everything was special for them. It was really a great moment to be able to share with them after the game. They've been here from start to finish. They're the ones that allowed me to believe in myself."

That belief, Gaudreau said, never wavered, despite his being passed over in the QMJHL draft when he was 15. But three years later he was playing for Shawinigan and, after bouncing in and out of the lineup all season, was in uniform for the 2012 Memorial Cup Final, which Shawinigan won 2-1 in overtime against London.

It was not all that different from what's happening to Gaudreau this season, and he hopes it ends the same way, with a championship trophy, though he's trying to remain firmly rooted in the present.

"So much has happened it makes for a bit of a nice story, but right now I'm here and that's what I'm focusing on, not on that story," Gaudreau said. "I'm going to focus on what I have to do on the ice and not think too far ahead, or look too far behind either."

Video: Cotsonika and Rosen preview Game 2 of Cup Final

That story, however, is part of what makes Gaudreau so beloved among Predators players and management, with center Colton Sissons, who played with him in Milwaukee, describing him as one of the greatest teammates he's ever had. Fenton said he is proud to have played a part in making this story happen.

"He's as good a two-way hockey player as we've had down in Milwaukee in a long time," Fenton said. "He's very coachable, he's a unique kid because he's very humble. He's very grateful for everything that he's got, but he's earned everything that he's got. Our coaches in Milwaukee have him at the top of their lists as far as favorites are concerned."

Gaudreau is now having the same effect on Nashville's coaches and players and fans, playing on the biggest stage in hockey and living his dream. He has already beaten the odds simply by being here, succeeding where so many others who had far easier paths have failed.

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