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Is Adam Gaudette more than a one-season wonder?

Let’s breakdown Gaudette’s career from NCAA to NHL.

Florida Panthers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As has been discussed many times, Stan Bowman has been picking up reclamation projects as a means to offset quality loss in the prospect pool by chasing the Stanley Cup. Typically these are players originally picked in first round, but Bowman also has a fondness for picking up former successful NCAA players, no matter what round they were drafted. One such player that may be on the Blackhawks next season is Adam Gaudette.

Originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Gaudette spent three seasons at Northeastern University, producing 142 points (68 G, 74 A) in 116 games. He especially thrived on the power play, being ranked at the top or near the top his last season in college. He went on to win the Hobey Baker Award, Hockey East Player of the Year, and was named to the AHCA East First-Team All-American in 2018. Billed as a two-way center with a strong shot release and who wasn’t afraid to get his nose dirty in puck battles, the expectations for Gaudette were high.

That all sounds great, right? Unfortunately, Gaudette had a rough start to his pro career, and much of his NCAA billing still hasn’t translated in the NHL.

Note: The following chart is from Evolving-Hockey (one of the best resources for hockey data).

As can be seen from the chart above, it’s been a disappointing first three seasons overall which sub league average ranking offensive and defensively. His defensive results are especially concerning for a Blackhawks team that already isn’t good in that regard. There’s an argument to be made for a player that can compensate for poor defense with high offense, but Gaudette hasn’t shown he’s consistent with his offense at all. His most positive impact has been on the power play, which is an area the Blackhawks need help with, but that usage couldn’t be the only reason to

But to be fair, Gaudette has never played a full season in the NHL, so there is a higher chance of variances in those samples and from season-to-season. And there is definitely variance in terms Gaudette’s offensive results, but not necessarily for much else about his behavior on the ice.

Gaudette 3-Year Rank

Season Points per Game EVO Shots / 60 Shot Assists per 60 Zone Entries per 60 EVD xGFA per 60 QOC 5v5 OZ% 5v5
Season Points per Game EVO Shots / 60 Shot Assists per 60 Zone Entries per 60 EVD xGFA per 60 QOC 5v5 OZ% 5v5
2018-19 0.21 8th 53rd 20th 38th 19th 20th 32nd 72.67%
2019-20 0.56 17th 58th 45th 48th 26th 21st 34th 68.47%
2020-21 0.30 26th 52nd 12th 35th 17th 16th 21th 62.24%

As can be seen, Gaudette has one good offensive result season sandwiched by two poor ones. His Year 2 production was at about a second-line forward level (45 points in a regular 82-game season), which is more in-line with expectations for him after college and obviously what the Blackhawks hope to see from him in the future.

However, there is concern that those second year results are an outlier rather than a glimpse into what could be, especially since he was defensively a mess all three years.

First, Gaudette’s total points increased primarily due to a rise in secondary assists: he went from 0.23 per 60 secondary assists to 1.72 per 60. Secondary assists can be important, just to a lesser degree than primary points, and usually wide swings from season-to-season is a red flag that they may not be sustainable. Second, although Gaudette’s passing and transition stats improved in ‘19-20, he was still below average in both categories, and if you isolate just 5-on-5 play, the numbers fall back into the 30-35 percentile range. The power play time is likely inflating his overall points production in a way that, again, just may not be sustainable. This is partially why even though his overall points were up in year two, his even-strength offense goals above replacement is still in the basement.

Defensively, Gaudette saw little improvement year over year: he pretty much in the bottom quarter of players in the league in terms of quantity and quality shots against, which is why his even-strength defense goals above replacement is so terrible. While he wasn’t afraid of physicality or battling, Gaudette would often lose possession of the puck by skating directly into opposing players or miscalculating his situation along the boards, and his lack of on-ice awareness when it came to coverage was sub-par. These struggles are especially concerning considering he got a large share of offensive zone starts and faced low quality of competition — a type of usage/deployment should have sheltered him somewhat but it did not. Considering Gaudette was touted as a two-way player in the NCAA, it’s been surprising how little that has shown up in the NHL.

So the questions for Gaudette going into this next season are the following:

  • Can he recapture the offensive success he saw in college and his second NHL season?
  • Can he improve enough on the defensive side to at least not be a liability?
  • Do the Blackhawks really need Gaudette when they have so many other middle and bottom six forward options already — some of which are better offensively, some defensive?

The first question is likely closer to be possible than the second. As for the third question, the answer is probably “no” but the Blackhawks are still in the evaluation phrase of their rebuild, and they may be ready to move on from some other players.

Gaudette’s underlying 5-on-5 numbers still leave a lot to be desired in terms of suggested sustainability, but he may be the type of player who could do well given the right linemates and role. He’s likely best suited in an offensively skewed third-line role, preferably on the wing to alleviate some of his defensive responsibilities. It’s also important to remember that it’s not easy making a direct transition from NCAA to NHL, and Gaudette was likely rushed due to injuries to the Canucks roster his first season.

However, considering Gaudette is about to turn 25 in October later this year, time isn’t on his side in terms of putting it altogether in a meaningful way. The Blackhawks have had some success recently with slightly older but lower experienced additions — Dominik Kubalik and Pius Suter — but those players’ development curves were on the rise while Gaudette’s has not. They also do have other third-line options that are either better offensively or defensively — like Dylan Strome and Philipp Kurashev respectfully — but again, the Blackhawks are still trying to determine who is in the long-term plans for the team so Gaudette getting a shot isn’t the end of the world.

Let’s just hope that if Gaudette is given an opportunity with the Blackhawks next season, he makes the most of it — because otherwise his audition could be at the expense of other young players.