BOSTON – It is only a 25-minute drive to the TD Garden from the house where Adam Gaudette grew up in Braintree, Mass., but the centre has travelled much farther than that to be here Tuesday night with the Vancouver Canucks.
It was this time two years ago that Gaudette, a 2015 fifth-round draft pick of the Canucks, scored a hat trick to help Northeastern University end a 30-year drought at the Beanpot, the famous college hockey tournament in February that features four major Boston schools.
On Monday, Gaudette was invited to read Northeastern’s starting lineup before the Huskies beat the Harvard Crimson to advance to a third straight Beanpot final next week against Boston University.
And on Tuesday night, he’ll have about 120 friends and family members cheering for him when the Canucks play the Boston Bruins.
Gaudette wasn’t expected to become a National Hockey League regular so soon. Or at all. But he has become the Canucks’ everyday third-line centre and arrived for his Boston homecoming with 23 points in 43 games while averaging 12:30 of ice time.
"It’s exciting, absolutely," he said after the morning skate. "There’s a lot of people coming to the game tonight, people texting me and wishing me luck and telling me they’re going to be at the game. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to all year."
Really, Gaudette wasn’t expected to be here this season.
Overloaded with NHL forwards at training camp, the Canucks planned to use this year to develop Gaudette in the American Hockey League.
Injuries allowed him to play 56 games last season as an NHL rookie, but he often looked overmatched, especially in the defensive zone. In the 2019-20 Canucks media guide, Gaudette is listed in the "In the System" section.
But he led the Canucks in scoring in the pre-season, when he was consistently one of their most noticeable players, and to cut down to its opening-night roster the team sent NHL veterans Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin to the Utica Comets ahead of Gaudette.
Still, when Gaudette dressed for only three of Vancouver’s first nine game, the team dispatched him to the AHL. His minor-league assignment lasted two games. Upon his recall, Gaudette produced seven points in his first eight games, and managed to not be a defensive liability.
"I think a lot of people expected me to end up in Utica for a lot of the season and not make the team," Gaudette said Tuesday. "I kind of took that energy and used it to my advantage to go out there and prove people wrong. I think it helped me, for sure, this year.
"I’ve always adjusted pretty quickly because I’ve been forced to at every level I’ve played. I think that’s just the best way to adjust – being thrown in there and having to learn for myself. I feel like I’ve developed myself into an everyday NHL player and I’m gaining confidence every day."
Gaudette needs to continue improving his strength and speed. He is winning just 39.4 per cent of his draws – the Canucks have three of the league’s best faceoff men in J.T. Miller (59.7), Jay Beagle (59.5) and Bo Horvat (57.1) – and still often gets protected in the defensive zone by coach Travis Green.
But after producing just 12 points in his first 61 games as a pro, Gaudette has been able to translate his obvious attacking skills to the NHL this season. He is a regular on the second-unit power play, and his 200-foot game is much better this season than last.
Remember, it was only 24 months ago he was a skinny, late-blooming kid with a choppy skating stride who, by definition as a fifth-round pick, was unlikely to build an NHL career. Gaudette has come a long way in a short time.
"It seems like a long time ago," he said of his Beanpot heroics. "A lot has changed."