Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Bring up the art of scoring goals and Adam Gaudette lights up immediately.

“I just love to score, man,” said the Springfield Thunderbirds forward, whose 38 goals lead the AHL. He also ranks third in the league with 60 points through 59 games. “Nothing gets me going out there [more] than seeing that puck go into the back of the net.

“I think a lot of athletes will say that about their sport, whether it’s hitting a home run or making a big catch for a touchdown. But ever since I was little, I just always loved putting that puck in the net.”

But the knock on Gaudette has been whether he can be relied on defensively or to protect a late lead. Six seasons into his pro career, Gaudette is more than aware of that criticism, too. Leaving Northeastern University a year early to turn pro with the Vancouver Canucks in 2018, Gaudette settled into the NHL quickly and played 153 games with the Canucks across parts of four seasons.

But then came an April 2021 trade to the Chicago Blackhawks. A November 2021 waiver claim by the Ottawa Senators, where he finished the 2021-22 season. A free-agent deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 2022-23, only to be assigned to the AHL with the Marlies. And another trade last February, one that sent Gaudette to the St. Louis Blues organization.

Now 27, Gaudette has spent this season with the Thunderbirds aside from a pair of games with the Blues.

Every decision-maker around the NHL knows that Gaudette can find the net. Even at the NHL level he has shown that at times, including a 33-point season with the Canucks back in 2019-20. But what else can he bring to an NHL roster? That is the question that Gaudette is trying to answer while tearing down old labels along the way.

“Every year up in the NHL,” Gaudette acknowledged, “the constructive criticism was ‘He’s got to be better defensively,’ and I think what I what I’ve done well is I’ve taken little things each year and gotten better at those, and moved on to the next, which eventually rounded out my game.

“You see it in the guys who are winning Stanley Cups. They might not be scoring all the time, but they’re out there late in the game because they do the right things. I think it really opened my eyes as I got older in professional hockey to how important that stuff is, and that’s what teams really look for in a player.”

Be it positioning in both the defensive and neutral zones, puck awareness, stopping on pucks, angling, faceoffs, knowing when to make the safe play and when to push the play, Gaudette has worked his way through a long checklist of prerequisites that every NHL player must have.

So as much as this season has seen Gaudette filling nets around the AHL, there are bigger goals for his all-around game. And, he has found, there can be plenty of satisfaction beyond producing offensively.

It’s something that he credits the Springfield coaching staff with impressing on him. Drew Bannister, who was promoted from the Thunderbirds to St. Louis in December, was a second-round draft pick who played 164 games in the NHL. Daniel Tkaczuk, now Springfield’s interim head coach, was a sixth-overall selection who had a 12-year pro career. Gaudette has clicked with both, and as his game has evolved, he has made it a point to hone those defensive skills that are necessary both to get back to the NHL and to stay there.

“They have definitely given me a lot more trust than I’ve received in past years,” Gaudette said of his Thunderbirds coaches. “Having confidence from your coaches instills that confidence in you. Being put out there in all types of situations, defensively and offensively, has led to my confidence in my ability to be able to help on both sides of the puck.”

It’s a different type of confidence that has been shown previously in Gaudette, who also leads all Springfield skaters in plus/minus rating (+16).

“Personally, I don’t want to be that type of player relied upon (only) for offense. I want to be relied upon in all situations. So I had to develop that part of my game. I always knew the scoring was there. Once I was confident in my defensive side and making the right plays late in the game, it allowed me to play freely and just trust myself. Having that confidence slowed down the game for me.”

With Gaudette trusting his two-way game, so are his coaches.

“This year was really the first year where I was just like, ‘All right, I want to go out and take these faceoffs at crucial times in the game in the defensive zone because I know I can get the job done,’” he said. “Watching my film, it really shows. So when you see the results like that, I feel more proud about my game. I’m not just scoring, but I’m doing the right things on the other side of the puck.

“I think really the past few years in the AHL have done that for me and finally put all the pieces together. I’m ready to make that jump to the next level and hopefully stick there.”


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