Tyler Gaudet was passed over in draft after draft, going unselected in both the OHL and NHL drafts during his eligible years.
He’s the player who proved that effort can go a long way towards turning a ‘late bloomer’ into a bona fide NHL forward though. He’s no longer the 5-foot-6 forward who had to bike his way to and from practice when someone hit his car.
Now he’s an NHL player who excels at defensive zone play and penalty kills. And he’s got his first career goal–in just 12 games, nonetheless.
“I thought Tyler was excellent,” said head coach Dave Tippett, talking about Gaudet’s goal-scoring game against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night in Arizona.
“[Martin] Hanzal’s line was a real top line for us… but Tyler’s line, I thought for what we asked of him and them tonight, they played really well.
It’s great to see a young player like that, who works as hard as he has… not just in tonight’s game, but you see how hard he’s worked to get to this level. To be rewarded with a goal, that’s great to see. The look on his face, his teammates all happy for him… those are special moments.”
Gaudet himself was the perfect image of a grinder who gets the job done, both in the game and after. He spoke about execution following the team’s 6-3 win, emphasizing that wins like that don’t happen unless you follow the game plan and remember the types of teams you’re up against. Whether it’s an offensive dynamite like the Dallas Stars or a defensive trapper like the New Jersey Devils, execution of a certain system is absolutely crucial.
Gaudet is auditioning to be the future Boyd Gordon in Arizona’s system, hoping to fill a defensive role on the club that shuts down the opposition while providing the necessary offense crucial to take home big wins like the one in which he scored.
“We stayed strong defensively tonight,” he asserted when asked about how to beat a talented forward corps like the one in Dallas. “I think when you’re strong defensively, you get chances offensively from their turnovers and from having the puck on your stick.”
Gaudet’s view of the game, both from a bigger picture perspective and from a close-up view of his own performances, show that he’s got high hockey IQ even as a bottom-six player. He knows where the team does the right thing, and he can tell where they need to improve–both on a grander scale and for himself personally.
“I know I can be a real effective player when I’m playing with confidence, so I think I could work on refining some of my more offensive plays,” he suggested, talking about key points he could work on after even the best of games. “Sometimes the simple play is best, but other times you want to work on being more aggressive. Simple is good, but being creative and holding on to the puck to create a scoring chance can be even better.”
The Arizona Coyotes have now won two consecutive games with six goals in each, marking the first time they’ve scored at least 11 goals in two straight games since 2011. They’re just four points out of a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and a full four points ahead of the next-highest team in the Pacific Division with 60.
That’s a far cry from the 56 points in 82 games that the team finished with the year prior. No matter how they finish off their 2015-16 campaign, it will be a step in the right direction. With impressive draft picks awaiting their selections at the 2016 entry draft and prospects galore in the cupboard for the Coyotes, it’s a good year for Arizona no matter what happens.
For players like Gaudet, this year is a crucial one. Gordon will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he’s trusted by the club. Yet Gaudet could come with a more team-friendly cap hit. So if he plays well and proves he’s got both defensive awareness and offensive ability, the 22-year-old forward could anchor the fourth line next year.
For now he’s just thinking about finally achieving what less than one percent of all hockey players ever will.
“Scoring that goal was something that I’ve long awaited,” admitted Gaudet. “To finally get it was truly incredible.”