Amid ups and downs of season, Wild’s Gaudreau gets high of parenthood

LOS ANGELES – The Wild didn't debut any NHL rookies for their road finale, but they still had a first-timer in action.

New dad Frederick Gaudreau rejoined the team Monday against the Kings at Arena after leaving for the birth of his son Félix, who arrived last Wednesday at 6 pounds, 14 ounces.

"Our hearts have been exploded in the best way possible," said Gaudreau, who received a heads-up text message from his wife, Kjersten, after the Wild played at Colorado a week ago. "It's been a beautiful experience.

"We feel very lucky."

Just as Gaudreau is starting fatherhood, he's ending a season that's had a much different tone: The Wild didn't make the playoffs, and Gaudreau had his worst performance with the team.

"We wish life was always uphill, and we would just go and fly through life," Gaudreau said. "But it's not. There's moments like that, and for me, definitely, it's been a season like that.

"But I do believe it's been a good thing for me to go through something like that and learn more about myself, and that's what I want to carry through this summer."

Since signing with the Wild as a free agent in 2021, this is the most Gaudreau has struggled.

He met up with the team in Los Angeles with only five goals in 65 games after scoring 19 last season, a career high, and receiving a five-year, $10.5 million contract extension. The season before, the center/right wing had 14 goals.

"It's been a lot of adversity, for sure," said Gaudreau, whose 31st birthday is next month. "There's no excuse. I don't have like, 'It's because of this. It's because of that.' I can just say there's been a lot of adversity."

Including injury.

Gaudreau absorbed a heavy hit from former teammate Ryan Reaves in the second game of the season at Toronto.

Although he kept playing, Gaudreau was dealing with broken ribs and eventually exited the lineup. Coach John Hynes mentioned Gaudreau has been "battling things" throughout the season.

"It's just time," Gaudreau said. "I get some bad timings on some hits sometimes. But again, there's no excuses. It is hockey. And again, like I said, we wish it was always uphill, and it hasn't been this year. But there's a lot of things to take out of that and grow from, and that's my mindset 100 percent.

"And I don't feel sorry for myself."

But the firings of coach Dean Evason and assistant Bob Woods did weigh on Gaudreau.

Evason previously coached Gaudreau when the two were with Nashville's minor league team, and their reunion overlapped with Gaudreau's best hockey in the NHL. The Wild's poor start was mirrored in Gaudreau's output; he didn't score his first goal until Hynes' first game behind the bench.

"I had no points in nine games or so," Gaudreau recalled, "and even though I don't pride myself on points and my focus is on playing the right way, I know that that's how we were being judged. So, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. With that feeling, that pressure, that was coming with hearing stuff about the coaching staff.

"I cared so much about them that you take it personally, feel guilty, and that was the tough part."

This offseason is the beginning of a fresh start for everyone on the Wild, but perhaps no one could benefit from it more than Gaudreau.

"The summers are huge for quality time with the people I care the most about, for time in nature," Gaudreau said. "I love to take care of my body and work on becoming bigger and better and stronger and just really making sure you come back in the season and you're full of energy and just ready to attack a full season.

"So yes, summers are good. Now that we're not in the playoffs, I think that's the focus of everybody is to take that opportunity to build and grow and come back better."