Adam Gaudette was the team’s best player throughout the 2019 preseason. In fact, he was good enough to force the Canucks hand and cause them to demote a pair of bubble players in Nikolay Goldobin and Sven Baertschi. He’s cooled off considerably since then, to the point where he was re-assigned to the Utica Comets on Thursday morning. He flashed promise at times, as he’s done since joining the team at the tail end of the 2017-18 season, but this latest development offers a chance to evaluate how close he is to developing into the stable, two-way third-line centre the Canucks are hoping he can be.
It’s so rare for a 5th rounder to have even reached the level of success that he has, that when it happens, fans can often overvalue it. It’s easy to inflate the ability of real underdog prospects who have shown hints of success early in their careers, to the point where it’s worth asking if Gaudette is legitimately good, or just good for a fifth-round pick.
An example of a player in a similar situation that will hit close to home for Canucks fans is Frankie Corrado, another former fifth-rounder. Like Gaudette, Corrado got an unlikely taste of the NHL early on in his career, which led to considerable hype. While Gaudette still has time to grow and improve, Corrado serves as a reminder that the endowment effect can sometimes get in the way of our ability to assess a player’s true potential.
One factor that may be inflating Gaudette’s reputation among fans and the media is the players Gaudette is competing with for the third-line centre spot. Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle are older, less exciting, and oft-derided in the Vancouver market, specifically for their inability to produce offence. This makes the flashes of brilliance we saw from Gaudette in the preseason seem more impressive because we don’t ever see that from the current bottom-six centers.
At 23-years old and entering his D+5 season, Gaudette isn’t particularly young anymore. While there’s little consensus among experts as to when we can definitively say that a player should no longer be considered a prospect, research on aging curves indicates that 23 is roughly the age in which players begin to reach their prime. This isn’t to say that Gaudette is a bust by any stretch, but he is much closer to a finished product than many in this market are willing to believe.
Heading into this season, a large portion of fans and media considered Gaudette to be a viable option to centre the team’s third line, but based on the statistical profile, that’s not necessarily the case.
It would be fair to categorize Gaudette as a late bloomer based on the bath he’s followed to get to the NHL. Leading up to the draft, the center didn’t produce much in the way of offence or give scouts and GMs a reason to believe he had a shot at becoming an NHL regular.
His outlook changed rapidly as he joined Northeastern in his draft+1 year and posted the same amount of points as his draft year, but in fewer games against stiffer competition. By the end of the 2015-16, he had placed himself firmly on the radar of Canuck fans.
Gaudette’s impressive college career, coupled with some stellar play in preseason action and during a brief stint in the AHL had many observers giddy with anticipation at the prospect of a high-end third line centre with offensive upside. Unfortunately, that has yet to materialize, as Gaudette’s counting stats and underlying shot-based metrics have been rather pedestrian over his NHL career thus far.
Although 64 games is a very small sample size, Gaudette’s numbers have yet to live up to the hype. Evolving-hockey.com gives us the following figures, which are fairly reflective of his play last season.
With Gaudette on the ice, the Canucks give up far more shot attempts than they create. While he’s generating his fair share of shot attempts, he’s gotten crushed defensively early on, which accounts for his unimpressive CF% of 46.21.
We can see a similar theme when it comes to his expected goal numbers. Gaudette’s expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) is incredibly high, pulling his xGF% down to a measly 38.3%. A competitive team simply can’t afford to have a player with such a lacklustre defensive profile eating more than the barest minimum of fourth-line minutes. This is an area where Gaudette will need to show significant improvement if he wants to be considered a serious option in the bottom-six over the long term.
The RAPM chart gives us a great visual of Gaudette’s isolated impact on some of the same statistics, but in relation to the rest of the league. For more context, let’s take a look at the RAPM charts for Sutter and Beagle over their last three seasons.
These charts don’t paint a flattering picture of Sutter or Beagle, either; especially considering these are veterans who’ve had the opportunity to sharpen their skills in the NHL for several years, unlike Gaudette. That having been said, their defensive impact has been significantly better than Gaudette’s, which explains why he’s been much more keen to lean on them in close games.
Obviously, it’s unwise to put too much stock into a player’s underlying numbers from their first season as they get familiar with the league, but at this point it’s fair to say that the numbers aren’t as encouraging as many would like them to be.
You can count me in the camp that thought after the preseason, this was the year he could solidify his role as a regular right out of the gate and not look back, but I was wrong. As disappointing as it is right now, we know Gaudette will be back sooner than later with more NHL opportunities. Gaudette still has time to grow and improve, but it’s important to acknowledge the fact that this far, he hasn’t been able to prove he’s a better option than either of the two centres who helped to make up the league’s worst bottom-six last season. It would be easy to write that off as being more indicative of Travis Green’s preferences than Gaudette’s play, but so far, the numbers have indicated that Green’s reticence to increase his ice time is justified.
This is especially disheartening when you consider that the hope isn’t just that Gaudette can be better than the third-line options the Canucks currently have on the roster, but that he can eventually join players like Charlie Coyle, Lars Eller, Cody Eakin, and Tyler Bozak as one of the NHL’s high-end third line centers.
Everyone is rooting for Gaudette to reach his potential and become a third line center on an eventual contender, but he’s far from guaranteed to do so, and considering his age and statistical resume thus far, the possibility of him failing to reach that potential may be higher than many of us are willing to acknowledge. As this team grows into a contender over the next 3-5 years, it may be necessary to imagine a future without Gaudette leading the charge in the bottom six. At the very least, the market is due for a reality check. Gaudette is still a long way off from being the player many think he can be, and no amount of sky-high expectations will help him get there more quickly.