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Familiarity, friendly faces help bring Gaudreau to Minnesota

New Wild forward has plenty of experience playing for coach Dean Evason in Milwaukee

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

Now 28 years old, and coming off perhaps his most effective - albeit limited - National Hockey League season, new Wild forward Frederick Gaudreau was looking for a chance for continued growth, and to do so with a familiar face in his corner.

He'll get that chance in Minnesota after the forward signed a two-year contract with the Wild on the first day of free agency last month.

Undrafted out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Gaudreau signed with the Nashville Predators organization, where he began his pro career with the Milwaukee Admirals, and their head coach at the time ... current Wild coach Dean Evason. 

Gaudreau credits Evason for the growth he showed early on, as a guy who signed an AHL contract, and within three seasons, was seeing time in the NHL and playing a critical role in the Preds' run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017.

"He's been huge for me. I got there my first pro year in Milwaukee and I grew with him for four years after that. I remember the first year, he sent me back to the East Coast but I understood the business. Back then I knew it wasn't personal, he still liked me a lot," Gaudreau said. "Then I signed there for my second year and that's when things got really exciting for me. I was on an AHL deal back then and then I signed my first NHL deal, which he was really excited for me. Then I went to the AHL All-Star [Game] that season with Deano, he was the All-Star coach then. 

"We've gone through some really cool stuff together, I know he's always had a lot of trust in me and on my side, I really enjoyed playing for him. It's really fun to have the opportunity to play with him again."

Even though he'll have Evason behind him on the bench once again, now it'll be up to him to prove once and for all that he can thrive at the NHL level full time. 

Until now, Gaudreau has spent almost his entire professional career shuttling between the NHL and the American Hockey League, including last season, when he played in 19 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and half a dozen with their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Video: Dean Evason summer update

"He's got a great skill set … that didn't translate early in his career, and that's why he went down. But the willingness just that aspect, the willingness to do that, to go down and accept and just, 'Okay, I'm gonna go down and play,' I mean, that says a lot about a person and found this game and played extremely well at the American Hockey League," Evason said. "He just seemed to get better each and every year and played extremely well in Pittsburgh, the games that we've watched. So we're looking forward to having him, and I can attest to him being obviously a great, a real, real, real good player, but a real good teammate as well."

Last year with the Pens, Gaudreau was productive in limited action, posting 10 points in his 19 games with the big club. He also had four points in six AHL contests. 

His versatility is an asset, as Gaudreau can play both center and wing. He can also play up and down the lineup, and was actually at his best last season when he was seeing a larger share of ice time. 

Video: Frederick Gaudreau on signing with Minnesota Wild

"To me I think I've always been a guy I feel like the coach can trust on the ice, a guy that can shutdown big lines but can also contribute offensively when needed. I've always prided myself on being very versatile," Gaudreau said. "I work hard at trying to get better in many aspects of my games, whether it's the skill, the speed, just to be more and more of a complete player and that's what I'm going to try and bring there."

Last season's sojourn in with Pittsburgh was Gaudreau's first experience outside the Predators organization. 

He signed with Milwaukee in 2014 as an AHL free agent and earned an NHL contract with a fantastic second season in the American League, when he tallied 15 goals and 42 points in 75 games. 

The following season, his third as a pro, Gaudreau scored 25 goals and 48 points in 66 games with Milwaukee and earned his first call-up to the NHL, skating in nine games and earning his first NHL point. He scored three goals in eight playoff games that season as the Predators lost to the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After another split season, Gaudreau enjoyed his lone NHL-only season with Nashville in 2018-19, scoring three goals and four points in 55 games. He spent all of 2019-20 in Milwaukee before signing with Pittsburgh and rekindling his NHL career there, and now he'll try and continue that momentum in Minnesota, a place that interested him from the very beginning because of the Evason connection, but also an additional personal touch.

Gaudreau's girlfriend, who was a student at Marquette University when he played in Milwaukee, is an Edina native. 

"I heard nothing but great things about the organization and the city, and of course I played for Deano back in the day in Milwaukee," Gaudreau said. "I love him, the way he sees hockey and life and it just was a great fit with him in the past. And also my girlfriend is born and raised in Minnesota. Those were all things that were really attractive to me."

Evason has only begun to plan around how he may deploy Gaudreau, but don't be surprised if he at least starts training camp next month with an opportunity to skate next to his old MIlwaukee and Nashville teammate, Kevin Fiala. 

"That's an exciting thing for me. I mean, they know each other. So that could be an option. But again, we talked about this last year at training camp. We're gonna see who's gonna fit where. We've got a lot of options again at center ice," Evason said. "We've got a lot of center-ice men that can go into those spots. And as we did last year, we put people at different times into our so-called top center positions. And we're gonna have to do that again. So we've played around with him being at center and being at the wing, but I like him at both, for me, in the past. So we'll see where he lands once camp ends."

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