We know where many of the current Vancouver Canucks stand heading into next season. It’s pretty evident that Elias Pettersson is the engine that drives the offence, Bo Horvat is one of the better second-line centres in the league, and Alex Edler will probably play 40 minutes per night.
Those are all guarantees, but what remains extremely uncertain is the status of Adam Gaudette. The 2018 Hobey Baker winner was destined to spend most of the season being groomed in the American Hockey League. However, injuries to both Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle meant that Gaudette had to suit up for 56 NHL games last season.
The results were mixed. During his first season, Gaudette was used in a sheltered-fourth line role with inflated starts in the offensive zone. While he was better defensively than the forever foundational Brandon Sutter, the lack of offence in his game was noticeable.
He finished the season with five goals and 12 points in 56 games, but only Jay Beagle, Tyler Motte, Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter created less scoring chances per 60 minutes than Gaudette among Canucks forwards.
Part of the problem was that Gaudette had a revolving door of linemates all season long. Aside from Antoine Roussel, none of them are known for setting up their teammates.
So after an up-and-down rookie campaign, what’s next for Adam Gaudette? Here’s a look at some options for him heading into next season.
Third or Fourth Line Winger
The only reason this scenario becomes a possibility is because the Canucks still have both Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle under contract. They likely want to develop Gaudette as a centre, but that becomes tough when you have two career bottom-six centres locked into your lineup.
Not only that, but for all the criticism Sutter and Beagle get for the holes in their games, both are usually crisp in the circle. Beagle clocked in above 56% on the year, but Sutter did dip below 50% in the circle for the first time since 2013-14 last season.
Gaudette will need to improve his draws moving forward, as he finished the year with a 40.4% faceoff percentage.
Top Six Winger
This is an intriguing yet unlikely option for the Massachusetts native. The Canucks are brimming with options on the wing, although none of the options are locks in the top-six.
If the Canucks are hellbent on having Sutter and Beagle as their bottom-six centres, perhaps an move to get the most out of Gaudette would be to have him line up as a right winger alongside Horvat.
"Nashville wanted him at the draft bad. I don't see him playing centre until they move the Sutter contract. Adam is an NHL player in my eyes so start him on the wing."@CoreyHirsch on Adam Gaudette next year.— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) July 3, 2019
LISTEN: https://t.co/mDLZc4njsd pic.twitter.com/w7nhdQvRd6
Offensively, Gaudette is known more for his shot than his ability to set up teammates, which could work well on a line with Horvat. It’s an outside of the box thought, but it would sure give Gaudette a confidence boost to get some minutes in the top six.
Between Sutter and Beagle, we know for sure that Beagle will be a centreman. The problem with the way the Canucks were constructed last season, is that Beagle was the de-facto third-line centre.
Beagle averaged 13:39 per game to Gaudette’s 10:57. If the Canucks do plan on being a playoff team, they will be hard-pressed with Beagle’s line, which got creamed in both scoring chances and goal against last season, eating up that much ice time.
If Gaudette is going to pry his craft as an NHL centreman next season, it needs to be in a third-line role. The Canucks can’t afford to have Beagle and his wingers create no offence while giving up a bevy of chances at even-strength.
I don’t care how “ready” Gaudette is for a third line role, he’s a way more productive player out there already than Sutter. Plus, this is the role you’re trying to grow him into. So play him there and see what he can do on a long-term basis. pic.twitter.com/sCARvgAopo— CanucksPlace (@canucksplace) July 4, 2019
The best case scenario for the Canucks next season would be to have Gaudette assume the third-line centre role, and grow into it as the season progresses. He will need to play some tougher minutes without the offensive zone shelter, and he will need to play with at least one winger who can pass the puck.
If you’re trying to shape this roster, having Roussel and Gaudette partner up on the third line is probably best for the Canucks. Then, stick one of Josh Leivo or Jake Virtanen (two wingers who are adept on the backcheck) on the right side. That’s a line with some bite and some offensive capabilities.
First Line Centre for the Utica Comets
If one of Sutter or Beagle wasn’t with the Canucks, then this probably wouldn’t be an option for Gaudette.
That isn’t the case, meaning that Gaudette could very well end up in Utica to start the season. If the Canucks do want to keep all of Sutter, Beagle and Gaudette at their natural position, something has to give.
Boucher-Camper-MacEwen— Comets Cory (@CoryHergott) July 4, 2019
It’s coming together, @UticaComets fans
Having Gaudette end up in Utica wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Canucks. If he does end up in Utica, Gaudette likely assumes the role of a number one centreman, where he would be a part of both the penalty kill and the power play. That experience could be invaluable for him, since he spent next to no time playing on special teams for the Canucks next season.
Also, you assume that Sutter and/or Beagle will get injured a some point, during which time Gaudette finds himself right back with the big club.
While this isn’t a top concern, the Comets are lacking some centre depth at the moment, and having Gaudette bump everyone down the depth chart would solve that problem. The best-case scenario is that he takes a step and grows into the third-line centre role, but playing big minutes in Utica and earning a call-up isn’t a negative for his development either.