NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The makeshift shrine is situated toward the front of the Predators’ dressing room.
It’s unassuming, just a beat-up cubby and an ordinary chair. Those nondescript items, however, have started to acquire an almost mythical status in the Stanley Cup Final.
Here sits Frederick Gaudreau. He’s the least experienced player on the Predators’ playoff roster with 15 total NHL games, which explains his modest accommodations during practices and morning skates.
But the soft-spoken rookie forward, who has a team-leading three goals against the Penguins, has announced his presence loudly.
Gaudreau is the second NHL player and first in 73 years to score the first three goals of his career in the Stanley Cup Final. He also is the third rookie in league history to collect consecutive game-winners in the Final and the second to do so in this series.
So what else is it going to take for Gaudreau to receive a permanent locker stall?
“The way he’s playing right now,” Predators forward Austin Watson said, “we’ll keep him right there.”
The origins of Gaudreau’s emerging legend are appropriately humble. The Predators discovered the 24-year-old in the Quebec junior league, signing the undrafted free agent to a series of one-year American Hockey League contracts before rewarding him with an entry-level contract in January 2016.
In his first full season with the Milwaukee Admirals, Gaudreau became an AHL All-Star. He finished this season with 25 goals and 48 points, both of which were career highs at any level.
Nashville didn’t expect to use him in the Stanley Cup playoffs but had to improvise when top centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher suffered injuries in Game 4 of the Western Conference final against the Ducks on May 18.
Inactive for nearly a month and thrown into the highest-pressure situation of his playing career, Gaudreau won 10 of 14 faceoffs in a series-shifting Game 5 victory at Honda Center.
“I just try to put my focus at the right spot,” Gaudreau said. “Maybe I’m not too old, but I’ve lived some stuff maybe. I’m getting to that point where I think I can handle those situations.”
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