The Blackhawks are two weeks into training camp and the heated positional battles are slowly starting to sort themselves out.
One of the players that looks noticeably different this season is Adam Gaudette. That's because he feels different.
After struggling with a yeast infection in his stomach for years and finally identifying the issue, Gaudette added 20 pounds over the offseason and changed up his diet. He says "I haven't felt this good, ever" and it's showing in his play.
"I don’t want to say it’s easy but things come easier just to be in better shape and better physically," Gaudette said. "Pucks in the corner, battles on the wall, I feel like I’m not losing many, I’m winning most of my battles. It’s easier to win battles now and get under guys’ sticks and stick strength, on the boards, pushing off, just fighting through guys."
In his preseason debut against the Detroit Red Wings, Gaudette might've been the best player on the ice. He recorded a team-high nine shot attempts (six on goal), two takeaways, two hits and two blocked shots in 15:31 of ice time.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton sensed pretty quickly that Gaudette had some extra pep in his step and promoted him from the fourth line to the second line midway through the game, which is unusual to do in a preseason game when you're trying to give every player an equal opportunity.
"Good," Colliton said of Gaudette's performance. "Very good. He got better as the game went on. I liked his skating, his willingness to get inside, created a couple chances for himself, so I tried to play him a little bit more, keep him going. That type of game is what we want to see from him."
Gaudette acknowledged he didn't feel like he had as much jump on Monday as his first game, but he still felt different in a good way, both mentally and physically, afterward.
"Even though I didn’t have my legs after coming off the plane, I still felt I could keep up and didn’t struggle with speed or anything whereas the past couple of years, if I didn’t feel right on a game day, I’d be waiting myself out, a little nervous and struggling to keep up and have to work extra hard just to be on the same page as some of these guys," Gaudette said. "I feel it’s coming more naturally now and it’s definitely helping with my confidence because it brings that stress level down. I don’t have to think about the extra-curricular stuff. I can just go out and play."
Despite being the healthiest he's ever been, Gaudette knows his spot on the roster isn't guaranteed. He's one of the guys fighting for both a spot and a role.
But at least he can finally say he's on a level playing field as everyone else and is putting his best foot forward.
"It’s not just physical, for me it’s a big mental thing, too," he said. "I’m comfortable, I’m confident. Even though I’m comfortable I’m not satisfied. I have to crack the lineup here and I’m going to do everything I can do to that. Things are going well right now and I just have to keep that same pace throughout the whole year."