Adam Gaudette gave the Canucks little choice with his play in the preseason: how could they cut Gaudette after he led the Canucks in goals with four in six games?
The one obstacle to keeping him up in the NHL was his waiver status: as one of the few forwards exempt from waivers, it would have been easy to send him down and keep up a waiver eligible forward instead. Instead, the Canucks cleared that obstacle by waiving Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin, and Alex Biega to keep Gaudette on the roster.
Sending Gaudette to the Utica Comets would have been a hard sell heading into the season. Now, however, as the Canucks have won four of their last five games without Gaudette in the lineup, it’s a lot easier: the Canucks sent Gaudette to the AHL on Thursday.
Ultimately, it’s the best thing for Gaudette’s development: if he’s not going to be in the Canucks lineup, it’s a lot better for him to play big minutes in all situations in Utica than sit in the press box.
“We just want him to play,” said head coach Travis Green on Thursday. “It seems like every game we went back and forth whether to put him in or not and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s back relatively soon.
“We need him to get down and get playing, and getting reps. Not just gametime reps but good practice reps as well. Last trip he didn’t get a lot of practice time either. With him not requiring waivers, it is a good option, he can go down and get some good quality practice time and game time and I’m sure we’ll see him back sooner than later.”
It does raise questions, however, about why he wasn’t playing and why the Canucks bothered risking other players on waivers to keep him in the NHL. This isn’t all hindsight: these questions were raised when Gaudette wasn’t in the lineup on opening night. Why keep him up if he wasn’t going to play?
Gaudette got in the lineup for the Canucks’ next three games, then Green made an uncharacteristic change to the lineup after their win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Green tends to keep a winning lineup together, so it was surprising to see him switch things up heading into their game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Since then, Gaudette hasn’t played a single game and it’s been tough for him to get a chance while the Canucks keep winning games. When he couldn’t even get into the lineup as a fresh forward on a team tired at the end of their road trip, the writing was on the wall.
Perhaps if the Canucks had lost a couple more games, the coaching staff wouldn't have hesitated to switch things up and get Gaudette back in the lineup. As problems go, it's not the worst one for a team to have.
Gaudette isn’t the only Canuck that hasn’t been able to get into the lineup with the Canucks’ continued success. Loui Eriksson has been similarly stuck in the press box: he played in the Canucks’ season opener, then came out of the lineup for Gaudette in their next game against Calgary. Eriksson, at least, came out of the lineup after a loss.
In his few games this season, Gaudette played reasonably well, picking up an assist in their 8-2 drubbing of the Los Angeles Kings and providing an option other than Brandon Sutter to centre the second unit on the power play. Still, he was playing the equivalent of fourth-line minutes, rather than as the centre of a scoring third line, as some might have hoped.
In Utica, Gaudette will join a team that is already on quite a roll. They’ve won five straight games on the backs of the players sent down so Gaudette could stay with the Canucks, Baertschi and Goldobin, though they’ve also gotten excellent performances from Kole Lind, Reid Boucher, Zack MacEwen, and goaltenders Zane McIntyre and Mike DiPietro.
What they lack, however, is depth up the middle, with winger Lukas Jasek playing at centre while Tyler Graovac has been out with a knee injury. Gaudette could take Jasek’s place at centre on the second line, moving Jasek back out to the wing, which would mean, with some level of irony, that Gaudette would be centring Baertschi and Goldobin.
There are some who might argue a line of Baertschi, Gaudette, and Goldobin should actually be the Canucks third line right now, though I wouldn’t be one of them. Gaudette still needs defensive support from his wingers at this stage of his career and the playmaking of Baertschi and Goldobin would be better served spread out if they were in the Canucks lineup.
For now, none of those three forwards are with the Canucks. As Green suggested, Gaudette will likely be back up with the Canucks before too long. Is the same true for Baertschi and Goldobin, who are dominating in the AHL?
Gaudette going down to Utica also puts the Canucks at 22 players on their roster, since Ashton Sautner was also sent down with Oscar Fantenberg returning from IR. It remains to be seen if the Canucks will call someone up to replace Gaudette on the roster.