At the beginning of the season, Cedric Paquette  classified himself as a third line center.
A defensively responsible forward that plays with an edge, Paquette knew where he was likely to find ice time. But with injuries and call-ups constantly shuffling the Syracuse Crunch lineup, the rookie has found a home where he didn’t expect — on a scoring line.
Paquette has seen spot duty on the top line, but has spent most of the season on the Crunch’s second unit. Forty-five games into Syracuse’s season, the 20-year-old leads the team with 14 goals and is tied for first with 30 points.
“He’s quickly found his way up the charts,” said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. “He just does a lot of really good things. Above all the things he does well, he’s a competitor. He plays hard every night, and that’s why he’s been successful.”
“The points just come with the hard work,” Paquette said.
Putting up points in bunches is nothing new for Paquette.
The Gaspe, Quebec, native posted 83 points in 63 games during his final junior season with Blainville-Boisbriand of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last year. Paquette added 12 points in 15 playoff contests, and once his team was eliminated, he joined the Crunch for the team’s Calder Cup run.
With a few pro games under his belt, Paquette had a running start for his first full season.
“For a long time there, whatever line he was on was the line that was scoring,” Zettler said. “It wasn’t just because he was playing with good players, it was because of what he was doing.”
A player who can be used in all situations, Paquette also knows how to come through in the clutch. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s fourth rounder in 2012 has scored three game-winning goals this season, as well as two shootout winners.
But he hasn’t abandoned his gritty play. Paquette, who eclipsed 100 penalty minutes in both of his years with Blainville-Boisbriand, has registered 86 penalty minutes so far this season.
“(Zettler) told me last year when I came here he wants me to play my game; to play physical like all the guys told him when I was in junior,” Paquette said.
“I love to play physical,” he added. “I love to finish my hit and play in front of the net. It’s a part of me and I can’t change it.”
The nose for the net is something he doesn’t want to change either.
“I just try to keep it simple," Paquette said. "I think that’s the secret in hockey — just keep putting the puck on the net and crash the net. That’s how we score goals.”