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.”