Frederick Gaudreau has gotten off to a slow start this season. The steady forward has been playing on the third line with Marco Rossi and Marcus Foligno, but he’s yet to produce a point this year. Through six games, Gaudreau has recorded zero goals, zero assists, and zero points and registered a -2 plus/minus. Now, Gaudreau is out with an upper-body injury he sustained from a Ryan Reaves hit against Toronto and will be out of the lineup for a while. That leaves me wondering what is going on with the usually capable forward.
Gaudreau has been a solid contributor since arriving in St. Paul. The Canadian forward has always offered something on every line he’s played on. He’ll contribute on the penalty kill, powerplay, and wherever the Minnesota Wild needs him. Dean Evason coached Gaudreau in the AHL, and Evason has trusted Gaudreau to the extent that he may be overextending the seventh-year center.
Bill Guerin was also familiar with Gaudreau from his time in Pittsburgh. Guerin signed the unproven forward to a two-year, $2 million deal. It proved to be a savvy deal when Gaudreau produced 82 points in 158 games. The Wild rewarded Gaudreau’s performance with a five-year, $10.5 million extension. Gaudreau is in the first year of that deal, which will pay him $2.1 million annually for the next five years.
Early this season, it’s looking like the Wild may have some buyer's remorse.
Gaudreau played on a line with a young Matt Boldy and a surging Kevin Fiala in his breakout 2021-22 season. That line had a positive Corsi percentage and a wicked 65.38 goals-for percentage. Fiala had the best season of his career, and Boldy put the league on notice.
That line allowed Gaudreau to break out. The shootout specialist notched a career-high in goals, assists, and points. Gaudreau was familiar with Fiala from his time in Nashville, where Evason coached the duo. That longtime connection was enough to vault Gaudreau to a career year. However, this breakout came practically out of nowhere. When I say out of nowhere, I mean out of nowhere. Gaudreau was looking at finding a new occupation if he could not make it work in the NHL.
Until Gaudreau’s breakout with the Wild, he only had 18 points in 103 NHL games. That includes a season in Nashville where he had four points in 55 games as a 27-year-old. The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up Gadureau, where he connected with Bill Guerin and put up ten points in 19 games. Credit to Guerin for plucking Gaudreau early in free agency that year, allowing him to thrive in Minnesota.
While Gaudreau’s breakout was surprising, he had to prove he could sustain that success. And he did. The Wild lined Gaudreau up next to Boldy for a large portion of the season, and he followed up his career year with another respectable season. 38 points in 82 games while flirting with 20 goals is a solid season from a guy making $1.2 million.
Guerin decided that was enough to give his coach’s favorite player a five-year extension. At a relatively affordable $2.1 million cap hit, the Wild got a guy who can put up 40 points, is responsible on both ends of the ice, and can kill penalties. But the caveat was always that Gaudreau was playing with Minnesota’s high-end talent. The Wild are facing that reality right now. Freddy has gone cold this season.
Gaudreau has hurt the Wild offensively. While he has been putting up some solid defensive metrics on a team that needs it, the offensive side of Gaudreau’s game has all but disappeared. Freddy’s GF% is third-worst among regular forwards at 32.27%. His expected goals are not much better. His Corsi% is worst amongst forwards and significantly worse than Rossi and Foligno, his linemates. Gaudreau has yet to log his name on the scoresheet, and now he’s hurt. Ryan Reaves’ check knocked Freddy out of the next few games.
Can Gaudreau’s linemates elevate him when he returns? Rossi has the potential to be a dynamic player, but he hasn’t reached his offensive potential yet. Foligno had a down year last season, but he’s also solid. Foligno and Rossi aren’t Boldy and Fiala. Fred has spent almost all his time with an elite player like Boldy or Fiala. But the Wild haven’t paired him with a dangerous offensive player this year. Part of it’s just bad luck, and part of it’s his linemates. Gaudreau has complemented his linemates and produced alongside the elite players he got to play with. Now, he’s struggling to produce with his not-so-elite linemates.
While this season has not started off the way that anyone wanted for Gaudreau, he still has time to turn it around. But right now, it’s beginning to look like it’ll be a long five years.
All stats and data via Evolving Hockey, HockeyDB, Natural Stat Trick, and MoneyPuck.com
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