Make one mention to Frederick Gaudreau of his two career games in the National Hockey League, and his face lights up in an instant.
It's a common reaction for a 23-year-old who has made it, but it's been a less traditional path for the Bromont, Quebec, native, who was searching for a job after his junior hockey days were over in 2014. Two years later, and Gaudreau is skating at the Pepsi Center in Denver as the Nashville Predators prepare for their game on Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche.
Gaudreau's first NHL game came on Oct. 24 at home against Pittsburgh, recalled due to illness that affected a number of Preds players that night. A month later, Gaudreau heard the call again, suiting up in Winnipeg against the Jets on Sunday afternoon as a member of Nashville's fourth line.
The bright lights, the planes, bus rides, hotels, joking around with the guys - Gaudreau is just trying to take it all in, and make an impression while he's at it.
"It was a realization of your dream," Gaudreau said of his first recall. "In my mind, I was trying to keep focusing on the game, but honestly, it was going in many directions just thinking about everything since I was young; everything about my dream that I was just accomplishing, that I was making at the moment."
Never drafted, Gaudreau signed with the Milwaukee Admirals in June of 2014 after a successful junior career in the QMJHL, winning the league's 2013-14 Most Sportsmanlike Player Award. Gaudreau saw time in both ECHL Cincinnati and AHL Milwaukee in 2014-15 before sticking with the Admirals full time last season, scoring 15 goals and 42 points in 75 games to finish with the third highest point total on the team.
The production in Milwaukee didn't go unnoticed, and it took only five days into the 2016 calendar year for the Predators to offer a two-year, entry-level contract. Now he's getting a chance at the top.
"He's somebody that's really smart, can play different positions, can kill penalties if we needed him to and plays a lot of key situations for [Milwaukee]," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of Gaudreau. "He seemed like a good fit to bring back up here and give him an opportunity."
Laviolette and his coaching staff are always receiving reports from Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason on players the Preds should consider when a call-up is necessary, and Gaudreau's name has come up as of late.
"I think [Gaudreau] plays more of an offensive role down there for them, but [Evason] refers to him as a very smart, two-way player, somebody he counts on to kill penalties, win a game at the end, either way, both offensively and defensively," Laviolette said. "I thought he did a good job going on that line [against Winnipeg] and played a good game. What we ask of that line is to be responsible, do a good job against other teams' top lines and contribute offensively when they can."
Gaudreau hasn't registered an NHL point just yet, but that's not necessarily on the top of his to-do list at the moment. Rather, he's priding himself in expanding his abilities in all situations, even if that means changing positions all together.
"I started playing the wings last year because I wanted to give myself that versatility, so whenever they need me, I can do the job," Gaudreau said. "Whatever they ask of me here, I'm going to work hard to do it. Whatever they ask me in Milwaukee, I'm working hard to do it too, so whatever their plan is for me, I'm just trying to accomplish and work hard for it."
Gaudreau says he felt more comfortable in his second outing, having a better idea of what to expect on and off the ice. But that doesn't mean he's immune to taking a moment to reflect on how he reached this point.
"All those memories that went through my mind the first time - it's been, not a long path, but not a traditional path," Gaudreau said. "All those memories that came to my mind, it's special for me to be able to be able to play NHL games like that. I'm just so glad, and I appreciate every moment."
Gaudreau knows at this stage of his career it's very possible he could be on a flight back to Milwaukee at a moment's notice. He's made it to this point though, which is more that most hockey players can say.
"You never know what can happen in life, so I'm trying to stay focused right now," Gaudreau said. "Like today was a practice, and I was just enjoying the practice. It's a dream, so I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can."
The Preds held an optional practice on Monday afternoon at Pepsi Center in Denver ahead of Tuesday's game against the Avalanche. Miikka Salomaki (Injured Reserve; upper-body) was among the participants.
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