Once upon a time, a small, undrafted player signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and went on to play in the NHL. Sound familiar? It’s happened a few times with the Lightning organization. See: Tyler Johnson, Cory Conacher, Jonathan Marchessault, and some guy named Martin St. Louis. Yanni Gourde is another one of those diamonds in the rough found by the Lightning.
Hailing out of Saint-Narcisse-de-Beaurivage, Quebec, Gourde has been a member of the Lightning organization since 2014. Gourde played most of his career in the AHL until making a surprise impact when called up by the Lightning last season. Since then, Gourde has never looked back and is one of the Lightning’s secret weapons as they lead the NHL’s standings in 2017-18.
A Rough Start to Yanni Gourde’s Career
Gourde came out of the QMJHL playing for the Victoriaville Tigres. Gourde’s 2011-12 season with the Tigres earned him the Jean Béliveau Trophy with a league-leading 124 points. The Worcester Sharks of the AHL eventually invited the 5-foot-9, 172-pound forward to a four-game try-out. Gourde had a goal and two assists in those four games while playing on the Sharks’ top line. His first full AHL season in 2012-13 didn’t go so well, as he failed to maintain his scoring pace. The undrafted forward was demoted to the ECHL during the season to find his game before coming back to end the year in Worcester. Gourde finished the season with eight goals and 14 points in 54 games for the Sharks.
Gourde’s roller coaster journey would continue the next season with no AHL team calling. His only offer came from the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL. Despite it not being the offer he was looking for, Gourde decided that he would play in the ECHL and try to have a good season. The Quebec native scored 34 points in 30 games for the Wings and later received a second try-out with the Sharks. Gourde’s 24 points in 25 games were somehow not enough to earn him a contract and he was released. Shortly after, Lightning Assistant GM Julien BriseBois approached Gourde and signed a two-year, two-way deal on March 10, 2014.
Injuries Gave Gourde Opportunity to Play for Lightning
Gourde played in three seasons for the Syracuse Crunch before getting his first call-up to the Lightning. In his first full season with the Crunch, the Quebec native led the team in goals with 29 and finished with 57 points in 76 games. The following 2015-16 season, Gourde played in two games with the Lightning and had one assist in his NHL debut. While continuing to impress down in Syracuse, Gourde got a legitimate chance to prove he can play in the NHL during the 2016-17 season.
The Lightning had injuries up and down their roster and several players from the Crunch were given the opportunity to play in the NHL. Gourde played in 20 games for the Lightning last season and had six goals, totaling eight points. He was one of the AHLers that stood out the most to the Lightning’s coaching staff for more than just his offensive production. Gourde’s tenacity impressed many, especially on the penalty kill, which is how he scored his first NHL goal.
This is a prime example of Gourde’s work ethic and why he caught the eye of this organization. The 26-year-old went from considering a civil engineering degree a few years ago to being a fan favorite of many Lightning supporters. The hard work and determination paid off for Gourde last summer, as he re-signed with the Lightning for two years averaging $1 million.
Gourde Earns Important Role for Lightning
Gourde started the 2017-18 season on the second line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. Since then, he’s moved around the lineup because of his versatility. Gourde can play center or wing. The former QMJHL leading scorer also plays on the Lightning’s powerplay and penalty kill. He currently sits fourth in rookie scoring with 14 goals and 30 points in 44 games.
It’s difficult to point out anything wrong with Gourde’s game. He plays hard every night and his forecheck is relentless, making him an effective penalty killer. Gourde’s 56-point pace is a pleasant surprise as well. On January 7, Gourde got his first Gordie (or Gourde-y, if you will) Howe Hat Trick in the Lightning’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. He finished the game with a total of two goals, an assist, and a fight – easily one of his best performances.
Although Gourde’s path to the NHL was tougher than most, it was worth it in the end. His story can be added to the list of the many inspiring stories of “undersized” hockey players who made it to the NHL.