The rookie centre is putting up a strong season, which bodes well for the Canucks’ future down the middle.Just get the shot off quicker.It’s that simple, Adam Gaudette insists.The Canucks’ rookie centre has shown a flair for the dramatic of late — his tying goal Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes (at 16:57 of the third period) and the game winner a week ago against the Los Angeles Kings being the most memorable markers.There are many things to unpack in those goals: the fact he’s on the ice at all in the late stages is a big one; that he’s finding the net is another. It all adds up to a player transforming from prospect to regular.He’s now played 41 NHL games — 36 this season — and has five goals and five assists in that time.Now, he’s still not playing a ton — his season high remains 16:05, against the Minnesota Wild in November — averaging 10:07 per game, but he’s doing plenty lately with those limited minutes. He has four goals in his last eight games.The eye test says Gaudette has gotten more comfortable and confident as his season has progressed. So have the numbers, which reveal a player who hasn’t had to play tough minutes but who hasn’t been a defensive liability while generating a decent number of shots toward the opposition’s goal.It’s clear, though, that he has gone through a few adjustment periods this season. First there was getting used to the speed of the AHL for an initial four-game stint in pro hockey, then it took a number of adjustments to get up to NHL speed for his first 31 big-league games of this season (remember, he got a five-game taste at the end of last season).With the return of veteran centre Brandon Sutter to the lineup after Christmas, Gaudette was shipped back to the farm — save for a one-game cameo in January — where he’s played 10 times.(By the way, you can see a decision looming in the summer on how to find a space for Gaudette next season, with Sutter a likely candidate for a trade to create that space.)
Adam Gaudette, centre, has been getting his share of shifts late in contests, and is making it work. Here he celebrates with Antoine Roussel and Troy Stecher after his tying goal against the Coyotes with three minutes left in the third period.
DARRYL DYCK /
THE CANADIAN PRESS
“I don’t think I was really getting that opportunity at the beginning of the year,” he said after Thursday’s game about the opportunity to play in late-game situations.He’s aware of what him being on the ice in such crucial moments reflects on how coach Travis Green feels about his progress.“That time I spent in Utica, that time up here, I’ve developed a lot,” he said. “I’m feeling really comfortable playing that pro-style game.”Green has been cautious with praise for his younger players this year. His words before the game were also carefully chosen.“I’m not looking for guys to do more than they’re capable of. We’ve had lots of guys go into the lineup; we’re not looking for them to be world-beaters, just their best. Gaudette’s progression has been good this year. I just want him to play the way he’s capable of,” Green said.And then, post-game, further confirmation.“He’s a gamer. I’ve said it a lot lately, I like Gauds’ game,” he said. Gaudette had been on the ice for a Coyotes goal moments before his own, when he lost his check — Lawson Crouse — who then rifled home a wrist shot from right in front of the Canucks’ goal.Green said the young centre wasn’t at fault on the goal. He added that Gaudette’s overall progress was more important.One of the things Gaudette has clearly improved has been the quickness of his release.His offensive talents were evident before he arrived in the pros. He won the Hobey Baker Award in 2017-18 as the best player in U.S. college because he was a dominant player at both ends of the ice for Northeastern University.Elite athlete development isn’t linear, of course. It’s not like studying for a test, where you just learn and learn and learn; rather it’s about recognizing deficits in your abilities and hoping to adjust them accordingly.Not every player is able to do it. There are plenty of players who have scored at levels below the NHL but aren’t able to translate those skills to the quicker, stronger NHL game.“Something I’ve worked on a lot was getting that puck off quicker,” Gaudette said. “I had the puck on my stick too long (before), looking for that perfect shot.”There was some practising involved in that, Gaudette said, but there was no alteration of technique. He said it was a matter of just trying to make his release happen in a shorter time frame.“Just getting it off as quick as possible, getting out of your comfort zone and forcing yourself to shoot it quick,” he email@example.com/risingactionLISTEN: In this week’s White Towel podcast, Paul Chapman and Ed Willes talk about the Vancouver Canucks’ injury woes. Is this a product of bad luck or is the team responsible for such players as Jake Virtanen being on the injured reserve list?