Olivier Nadeau’s goals might not dazzle you. The Buffalo Sabres prospect has morphed into a lethal net-front presence, utilizing his 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame to become a standout junior talent.
Nadeau, 20, scores a lot of the so-called “dirty goals.”
“My goals are not like highlight goals but they’re pretty decent,” Nadeau told the Times Herald shortly after scoring a career-high four goals for the Gatineau Olympiques on Feb. 9.
In scoring 22 goals and 46 points in 34 games and being named captain this season, his final in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the forward has also displayed the maturity and smarts that help make him an intriguing youngster.
“He thinks the game and he knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses,” Olympiques coach Louis Robitaille said. “He’s not the fastest skater, but he’s a guy, he’ll position himself always in an area where he can get the puck. So he’s always thinking ahead of the play.”
“That’s really been the strength of his game since we drafted him, just his ability to play in and around the net and score goals there,” said Adam Mair, Buffalo’s director of player development. “He’s got really soft hands, he’s a smart player, he’s a heavier body. So getting to that area and understanding how to get lost and also how to screen, find tips, those kind of things, it comes naturally to him.”
Nadeau has experienced a whirlwind 10-month stretch. Last season, he won the QMJHL championship with the Shawinigan Cataractes and competed in the Memorial Cup in late June. Then days later, Shawinigan traded him to Gatineau.
When Nadeau attended Buffalo’s development camp later in July, the Sabres decided he needed to undergo shoulder surgery. So he did not play his first game for the Olympiques until the season was three months old.
Immersing yourself in a new team can be difficult during the rehab process. An injured player often works on his own and might leave the rink before his teammates arrive. But Nadeau would stay and work on building relationships.
“He was always there with a good attitude,” Robitaille said. “When we were losing, he was around the boys to help them. When we were winning, he was happy for the boys and was able to share the experience of winning.
“And then with me, he was giving me an idea of what he saw from the top. So that open-door relationship with him started there and he was really a big presence in the dressing room even though he wasn’t playing.”
Nadeau finally played his first game for Shawinigan on Dec. 28, scoring a goal and pumping 13 shots on net. Still, it took him to acclimate to game action.
Robitaille told him it would take four to six weeks until he felt “good about being on the ice, about understanding where you are on the ice with your teammates.”
Sure enough, on Feb. 9, Nadeau scored four goals in a 5-2 road win over the Ottawa 67’s, Gatineau’s closest and fiercest rival.
“You have some games like that where everything you touch turns into gold,” Nadeau said. “It was one of those games.”
Robitaille said: “Those games, it’s always the cream that comes (to the) top, right?”
From the get-go that night, Robitaille could see Nadeau was engaged.
“His first shift, he made a big hit,” he said.
Robitaille said Nadeau kept playing ferociously throughout the game, forechecking and laying hits.
“And now the snowball got bigger,” he said.
On Feb. 17, despite having played just 18 games for Gatineau, Robitaille named Nadeau captain.
“That’s a credit to him and his leadership, his (energy), his competitiveness, his desire to see the team, not individually,” Robitaille said. “So that tells you a lot about the person. When you have those qualities as a player, as a person, it’s pretty rare things won’t go your way, right? Because he’s not centered on, he’s not focused on stats. He’s on the process of doing things right.”
Mair said: “The fact that Olivier can step in and handle a respectable room like that, given the fact that he’s new to the team, he missed the start of the year because of his rehab process, I think it just speaks volumes to the respect that he does have from his teammates and coach.”
The Sabres had Wednesday off.