GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tyler Gaudet would eventually like to be known as something more than Boyd Gordon’s replacement, but NHL careers are normally achieved through incremental steps and Gaudet is still on the bottom rung.
“You can always model your game off of pros that go before you,” Gaudet said. “That’s what players always do growing up and Boyd Gordon is a great player. He’s a very strong faceoff guy and PK (penalty kill) guy and he’s very reliable. I want to be known for those things but I also want to be known as my own player and I want to expand my game and add as much as I can to the table.”
Gaudet is getting his first extended opportunity. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett listed Gordon as week to week with an upper-body injury suffered when he blocked a shot with his hand on Feb. 4 against Chicago. It sounds like it will take some time to heal.
“We’ll start out with week to week and we’ll go from there,” Tippett said Tuesday. “He’ll probably get back on the ice some time in the next week just to keep his skating legs going but he won’t be handling a puck for a while.”
The Coyotes recalled Gaudet on Tuesday from Springfield of the American Hockey League. In Gordon’s absence, Gaudet will get the chance to fill a number of key roles as the team’s fourth-line center, a faceoff man and a penalty killer.
“That’s the role I envision him playing in the future,” Tippett said. “He thinks the same way (as Boyd). There’s a defensive concept that they think with, positionally, but the one thing about Tyler: He’s a good skater and can be an aggressive guy.”
Gaudet had a good training camp. Things were going so well that Tippett said the coaching staff was having a hard time envisioning a final roster without him. Unfortunately for Gaudet, it was an abbreviated camp. He suffered a shoulder injury that ended any hopes of making the team and he returned to Springfield.
The injury bug bit him again in Massachusetts when he suffered a head injury on a check that he said did not result in a concussion, but did force him to miss significant time. Gaudet had played in 26 of the Falcons’ 46 games at the time of his recall, notching a goal and seven points but leading Springfield in faceoff percentage from the right side.
“We’re struggling as a team so individuals will struggle when the team struggles and I’ve had a couple injuries so it’s been a roller coaster season for sure,” he said. “It’s been a mental battle to be positive when things aren’t going your way, but it’s like anything in life. You can have a desk job and still have battles and setbacks. It’s how you look at them. You can pout and be upset about them and crumble, or you can fight back and earn your spot.”
Gordon epitomizes the sacrifice required to man a bottom-six forward role in the NHL. Gaudet can read volumes on Gordon’s past and still not be up to speed with the way Gordon has built his NHL career. There are, however, advantages to Gaudet’s game that Gordon does not possess, including his chiseled frame and that speed that Tippett alluded to — an element of increasing importance in the NHL.
In Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver, Gaudet logged 8:42 of ice time, including 2:02 on the penalty-killing unit. He finished a minus-1 due to an unfortunate bounce on the Canucks’ game-winning goal where the puck caromed off two Coyotes players before finding its way into the net.
Tippett will be watching to see how much the Coyotes miss Gordon with Gaudet in the lineup. He’ll be watching to see how much Gaudet can pick up the slack on faceoffs where he went 0 for 3 on Wednesday. He’ll be watching to see how well Gaudet can fill in on the penalty-killing unit, which went a perfect 4-for-4 against Vancouver.
“I’d like to get Gaudet involved in that,” said Tippett, who has identified six or seven forwards for the PK with personnel adjustments to be made based on game situations. “That’s a big part of his game down there. The good thing about Gaudet is (first-year assistant) John Slaney ran the penalty kill down there (in Springfield). There’s a lot of the same structure that comes from last year so he’ll be very familiar with things.”
Gordon is only under contract through this season. With a $3 million cap hit and 12 seasons of mileage on his body (he’ll be 33 in October), it’s a logical leap to assume Gordon won’t be back next season. That leaves an open slot for which Gaudet seems a natural fit.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead of myself,” Gaudet said, almost waving off the thought with his hands. “I want to think about today. Anything beyond that would not be good on my part.
“I want to be in the now; I want to play well tomorrow and the next day. I want to focus on the next practice and better myself every day. If I do that now, hopefully some benefits will come in the future.”
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