Just call him steady Freddie.
Four games into his first recall of the 2017-18 season, Predators forward Frederick Gaudreau is making an impact, even if he's not showing up on the scoresheet just yet.
Never drafted, the 24-year-old Quebec native got his first taste of NHL action last season when he skated in nine games. But it was in the Stanley Cup Final where he made a name for himself.
Gaudreau scored three goals for Nashville over a four-game span in the Final - the first three tallies of his career - and starred under the lights with the entire world watching. That play under the highest-pressure situation a professional hockey player can experience undoubtedly contributed to a three-year contract over the summer for Gaudreau, and even though he didn't find himself on Nashville's Opening Night roster, it wasn't necessarily his fault.
"It's not like he didn't play well enough to be here," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "You have to make those decisions, and we knew he'd be back at some point.
"He just plays a steady game, a steady two-way player. He's smart, and I think he looks more comfortable every time he plays."
This season's recall came relatively soon when injuries brought about the need for a young centerman. So far, Gaudreau continues to show immense promise to one day become a full-time NHLer.
For Gaudreau, the comfort level on the ice increases each game, but his focus now pertains to the mental aspect, something he's dealt with at every level he's ever played.
"I'm just trying to slow the game down in my own mind," Gaudreau said. "It's the NHL, so I feel like everything goes fast. Really, it's more like a stress factor in my mind that I need to slow down. I would say my biggest focus right now is to get better and really trying to slow the game down and to see the game more easily, more freely… I know it just takes time, and it just takes a mindset to get better at it every day."
Fellow forward Austin Watson knows exactly what Gaudreau means. Former teammates in AHL Milwaukee as well, Watson went through a similar process over the past couple of seasons while earning a full-time role in Nashville. There's a comfort level that has to be attained over time, and Watson knows Gaudreau will find that soon.
"Freddie is a really talented player," Watson said. "He's got great speed, he's very light on his feet and quick and he plays the game the right way, too… The more games he plays, the more comfortable he looks and the more that allows him to be able to bring his ability out."
Other than his Stanley Cup Final goals, Gaudreau has yet to find the back of the net at the NHL level, but he's not sweating it. Rather, he knows he's back on the roster for a reason. The Preds want him here, and because of that assurance, it makes things that much easier.
"I'm not putting too much pressure on myself with achieving too much on the ice," Gaudreau said. "For me, it's just a matter of getting better every day and the mindset keeps going in that direction. If I do that, I know it's going to come."
Winning the Battles:
After Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to Calgary, there wasn't any uncertainty as to what the Predators would like to see improved before their back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday.
Laviolette and his players stated that their 5-on-5 play throughout the night against the Flames was not up to standard. Luckily, the NHL schedule-makers gave the Preds two days to practice and work out the kinks before jetting up to Chicago in preparation to face the Blackhawks for the second time this season.
"A lot of it, for me, is just the battles for pucks, those 50-50 pucks have to be better," Laviolette said after Wednesday's high-paced session. "I thought we were a little slow to get to the battle, and once we got in there, we lost too many of them… My eyeballs said it was tilted one way, and it's got to be tilted the other way."
"[Wednesday] was a tough practice," Watson said. "Lot of battles, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, just competing and winning those individual battles inside the system. It's normally something we do a pretty good job of, but it wasn't there last game."
Two power-play goals helped Nashville collect a point on Tuesday evening, but overall offensive production is also something the Preds would like to see improve. A potential change in the forward lines, as well as sustained pressure in the offensive zone could make the difference.
"We need to bear down when we do get chances, but I think we have to do a better job of just getting our O-zone play going and spending more time in the offensive zone," Watson said. "We've been playing pretty well defensively, and Peks is always solid back there, but we need to generate more offense."