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From Calder Cup to Stanley Cup Final, Gaudreau’s had a wild ride

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NASHVILLE — Thirty-nine days ago, Frederick Gaudreau was having himself a pretty good postseason.

He opened with three goals and four points in his first three games, firing an impressive 14 shots on goal. He scored once at even strength, one shorthanded, and once on the power play.

A very solid playoffs.

But it was for the Milwaukee Admirals. In the Calder Cup playoffs.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gaudreau’s spent most of his professional life in the AHL, emerging as a good scorer and skill guy. Then this spring, fate intervened. Injuries to Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen opened the door for Gaudreau to join the Preds, and get a realistic shot at minutes.

He made his NHL postseason debut in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, and has since seen both his role and impact grow steadily.

Gaudreau has two goals through the first three Cup Final games, including the game-winner in Saturday night’s 5-1 victory over the Pens. He also received his highest ice-time total of the playoffs, at 13:01.

To put that in perspective, James Neal played 14:33.

Which begs the questions: Who is this guy? And how is this happening?

“He came highly regarded from our minor league club,” Preds head coach Peter Laviolette said on Sunday. “[We were told] he’s a very, very smart two-way player that would not hurt us in any zone. He would be able to contribute inside the game.

“But the next part of that is making the step to the next level, to the National Hockey League. While a lot of these guys have come up from Milwaukee, he’s probably the least experienced of that group. He’s stepped in and done such a terrific job. He’s been able to play different positions on different lines for us, and he’s done it very well.”

Gaudreau, 24, had a brief taste of NHL life earlier this season. He made his big league debut and went on to appear in nine games for the Preds, most of them coming in December. After one final appearance in early January, he was reassigned to Milwaukee and spent the next four months there.

At times, the Stanley Cup playoffs must’ve felt a million miles away.

But as mentioned above, fate broke Gaudreau’s way. Johansen’s season-ending thigh injury left a significant hole down at center, forcing the likes of Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok to shoulder a major load.

Gaudreau got the call based on his overall body of work, though one has to think Nashville brass was intrigued by his career-high offensive numbers — 25 goals and 48 points in just 66 games with the Admirals this season.

Laviolette said the club recognized what Gaudreau’s strengths were, and has encouraged him to play to them. Even if it means doing so against the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“We just had some quick conversations about him and his game, talked to him just a little bit, told him to play his game and have fun,” Laviolette explained. “Enjoy the experience. Sometimes, if you think too much about a situation or the pressure of a situation, that can work against you.”

So far, so good for Gaudreau. He’s won over a number of folks in Nashville, Neal included.

“I think he’s surprising everybody how good he is,” Neal said. “He’s calm and collected. He’s a young kid, in a huge, crazy atmosphere, a huge time with the Cup Final.

“He’s done an unbelievable job.”

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.