The 2022-2023 season will be one Ben Gaudreau won't soon forget and it could be made even more memorable if the Corbeil native gets to hear his name called at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Gaudreau made some recent headlines with him and his agent recently announcing that he will re-enter the NHL entry draft.
“It’s definitely one of those things that you never want to do,” says Gaudreau.
“I was drafted to San Jose and it was a place that I wanted to be. They are a great organization and it was very exciting for me to be drafted there,” he says.
Gaudreau was originally drafted in the third round, 81st overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and the team had until June 1 of this year to sign Gaudreau to an entry-level contract. “With the prospect depth that they have and the goalies they have signed, it just doesn’t make too much sense for us to be in that system,” he says.
The Sharks have recently signed goaltenders Magnus Chrona and Georgy Romanov, while drafting Mason Beaupit out of the Western Hockey League last year, in addition to having James Reimer, Kaapo Kahkonen, Aaron Dell, Eetu Makiniemi and Strauss Mann inked to pro-level contracts.
“Re-entering the draft allows me to look for a fresh start with another organization that maybe doesn’t have that kind of goalie depth.”
The career path of Gaudreau is taking a similar turn to that of another North Bay area netminder; Colton Point. Point, who recently retired from the game, was not only a World Junior champion with Team Canada as well, but was drafted into a Dallas Stars system where he toiled in the minors for four seasons before being let go and picked up by the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2022.
The Sharks meantime had some turnover in the front office and new management looked to bring in their own players while building up their depth ranks. Just a year after Gaudreau was drafted by San Jose, the Sharks announced Mike Grier as their new General Manager.
“I actually talked to Colton a little while back and, it’s just part of the business. At the end of the day, the management in San Jose has their guys and their decisions are based and evaluated off their own work,” says Gaudreau.
“You can’t blame them for that, if it was me as the new guy coming in, I would want to bring in all of my own guys as well. Grier has done a lot of scouting, especially with goalies, and he has found what he likes and what works for him, and it just doesn’t make sense for me to work through that system – whereas some teams have only two goalies that are signed with their teams right now.”
Gaudreau got into “hockey mode” early when attending Team Canada’s World Junior camp last summer.
“I felt I had a good showing and so I knew I was on their radar, but a slow start scared me a little bit,” says Gaudreau who had an uncharacteristic first half of his Ontario Hockey League season with the Sarnia Sting going 9-8-2-1.
“But I had some background history with Team Canada, and they knew I could perform at that level. I got the invite and had a really good camp and I think that helped solidify their decision and after that, it was just an unbelievable experience,” says Gaudreau, who helped Team Canada win a Gold Medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Moncton and Halifax.
“The support we had was unbelievable and to see what we were doing for that community and for the country was something that will always stick with me.”
Going into the Christmas break, the Sting were sitting at 16-10-4-2 and had just one winning streak of at least three games.
“Got off to a bit of a slow start but after Christmas we really started to pick it up and got rolling. It made it a lot of fun. You look at our team and we built up for the run we were making. We brought in some really big pieces in the second half and it was a fun group to be around.”
One of those pieces was Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ethan Del Mastro, a big 6’4 206-pound defenceman who was acquired from the Mississauga Steelheads, but got a head start on teaming with Gaudreau when the pair of them suited up for Team Canada.
“I’ve known Del Mastro for a long time now, and it was really exciting when we heard it was a possibility that he might end up in Sarnia. We ended up living together when he got traded to Sarnia and it was a lot of fun. When you have someone like him playing in front of you, it’s not something you take for granted, I think he was probably the best defenceman in the league last year, one on one, you’re not getting the puck away from him.”
With the addition of Del Mastro, as well as Luca Del Bell Belluz, and Christian Kyrou, the Sting went 25-6- 1-2 after January 1st and Gaudreau himself was formidable in net, winning 15 of his final 23 starts. The Sting put together a nice playoff run, coming up just short of an appearance in the OHL finals when they lost in the Western Conference championship series to the London Knights.
“I think that’s also what helped me out personally,” he says of the additions the team made to the lineup. “It helped me set myself up for what comes next.”
June 29 couldn’t come soon enough for Gaudreau as that’s the night of the NHL Entry Draft, and for the first time in a few years, Gaudreau has no idea where he might be come September.
“I could go back for an overage season with Sarnia, but if I get drafted and get signed, you never know what might happen. So we’re sitting in limbo right now, but it’s very exciting and I can’t wait to see what the future holds,” he says.
For now, he’s spending some time at home with friends and family and giving back to his community by coaching a ball hockey team, something he said he learned from local goaltender Ken Appleby, who spent this past season with the Worcester Railers of the ECHL and Bridgeport Islanders of the AHL.
“Growing up, one of the biggest influences I had was Ken Appleby. I got to know him really well and he was always doing things to give back to the community, helping out with goaltending camps that I was a part of, and now that I’m in the same situation that he was in, it’s time for me to do the same thing.”