Though Julien Gauthier entered this season hot off the heels of a point-plus-per-game rookie season in the QMJHL and a presumptive spot in the top ten of this year’s entry draft, his star has fallen to the middle of the first-round by most accounts. The Nation Network’s consensus aligns closely with that assessment, as Gauthier checks in at 16th by our reckoning.
Part of the trepidation is production related. Though Gauthier had shown proficiency as a playmaker in his two QMJHL seasons prior, he was infamously dubbed this year’s Cy Young winner for his lofty imbalance of goals to assists, with his 41 goals met by a paltry 16 helpers. Given that Gauthier posted a 38 goal, 35 assist season the year prior, that represents a sizeable step back no matter the context.
Gauthier’s physical toolkit is rivalled by few in this class, though, and that’s what’s kept him in the conversation as a high first-round selection. His combination of size, speed, power and offensive instincts make him a handful for defenders — more often than not they’re left in his wake or bowled over entirely. We’ll try to make sense of the disconnect between his tools and production as we break down Gauthier and his long-term prospects of developing into a bona fide NHL forward.
- Age: 18, 1997-10-15
- Birthplace: Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec, Canada
- Frame: 6’4″, 225 lbs.
- Position: RW
- Handedness: R
- Draft Year Team: Val d’Or Foreurs
- Accomplishments/Awards: 12-13 QMAA Champion, QMJHL Gold Cup Champion, Telus Cup Bronze Medal 14-15 QMJHL Champion 15-16 BMO NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game
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Gauthier was one of the top goal scorers in the CHL this season, and he was the only draft-eligible player to make Team Canada’s team at the WJC. Gauthier is an exciting and dynamic scorer who brings a lot of plus physical attributes to the table. He is a 6-foot-4 forward who is a good skater, and I’d classify him as a high-end one for a big man. Gauthier is a highly skilled puck handler who can dangle and create highlight-reel plays. Gauthier uses his size, competes for space and pucks well, and gets to the dirty areas. His defensive game could use some work, though, as he can be a little loose on his positioning.
Finished sixth in the QMJHL with 41 goals — 30 scored at even strength or shorthanded…Tied for third in the league with eight “first goals”…Played for Team Cherry at the 2016 CHL Top Prospects Game…Recorded two assists in five games for Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF under-20 world junior championship…Gauthier was the only first-year draft eligible player selected for Canada’s WJC team…Scored seven goals in his first eight games before he sustained an injury on 10/2/15 from an illegal check by Julien-Carnignan-Labbe, who was suspended seven games…One of only four first-time draft eligible selected to represent the QMJHL at the 2015 CHL Canada-Russia Series…Was the only underage invite to Team Canada’s 2015 World Junior Championship evaluation camp…2014-15: Tied for third in goal scoring (38) among all QMJHL right wings despite being only years old…Finished 16th in the entire league in shots on goal (245)…His 1.07 points-per-game average was the CHL’s second best among 16 year olds behind OHL Rookie of the Year Alex DeBrincat…2013-14: Made QMJHL debut and led all 15 year olds in both goals (nine) and assists (21)…His 0.48 PPG average (30 points in 62 games) was the highest of any of the 47 15 year olds who played in the CHL that season…Tied a Val-d’Or team record by appearing in 24 playoff games, where he registered seven assists…Played in six games for Team Canada – Quebec at the 2014 World U17 Hockey Challenge (6-0-0-0).
Gauthier prides himself on his offense, his ability to find teammates when he’s in traffic and his skating. He wants to make sure his defensive play is up to snuff too and he has made some nice early impressions in his junior career. Gauthier was one of the youngest players at Canada’s world junior camp over the summer and the 2016 draft prospect relished the experience.
An explosive power forward who boasts an elite-level skill package. Takes nothing for granted and plays with hard-nosed work ethic. Tremendous vision and outstanding hockey sense; thrives under pressure and doesn’t stray from the high-percentage play. Willingness to play physical and win battles in his own end makes him a vital asset, stepping up at the game’s key moments. Exceptional skating ability allows him to stay with, if not ahead, of each unfolding play. Refined puckhandling skills allow him to maintain puck control at breakneck speeds. All-in-all, a prolific scorer whose attitude and innate abilities will constantly propel him into dominance. (Curtis Joe, EP 2016)
Julien Gauthier has drawn well-deserved comparisons to current NHLer Rick Nash. He has an imposing frame, dazzling puck skills, and the drive to win. Learns from his past mistakes and implements new strategies to counteract them. – See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=213464#sthash.E38240v4.dpuf
I’ve gone back and forth with Gauthier and where I think he best fits in the scheme of the first round. I’ve tried convincing myself to reject convention and retain him in my top ten, but finally settled on 13th. I can say, however, that there was at least one among us in this process that had Gauthier in their top ten.
Part of Gauthier’s appeal is that he’s a throwback. In a game that’s finding itself shorter on power forwards than ever, Gauthier represents a bygone era of hockey with his combination of skill and size, standing at 6’4″. Though Gauthier’s toolkit lends itself most especially to a visceral shoot first ask questions later mentality, it should be noted that he can see the ice exceptionally well and thinks the game at a high-pace.
The elephant in the room is Gauthier’s inability as a setup man this season. No matter how you shake it, 16 assists in a draft year is a terrible look. Then again, Gauthier’s statistical profile suggests that there might be something at work here that’s getting lost in translation.
There was no evidence leading into this season to suggest Gauthier struggled to set up his teammates. In two seasons prior Gauthier compiled 35 and 21 assists respectively. Nothing about Gauthier’s game jumps out as a negative in terms of facilitating offence with and through his linemates, either.
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Gauthier is suffering a low on-ice Sh%. Or that he’s carrying his team’s on-ice Sh% exclusively when he’s on the ice, dragging it to near respectability entirely by himself. Then again, one could reasonably counter that those are unlikely factors. The Val d’Or Foreurs were an offensive powerhouse in the QMJHL and had three players in the top-fifteen of league scoring.
Gauthier’s age doesn’t work in his favour, either. Were he born a month earlier, he’d have been a member of the 2015 draft. That seems like a small, unimportant detail, but at this stage in a player’s development, it can make a huge difference in ability. Large enough to warrant him a spot on Team Canada’s U20 World Hockey Championship, as the sole first-time draft-eligible player on the entire team.
It’s hard to come to grips with what exactly Gauthier’s draft season is representative of or what it bodes for his long-term prospects of making the NHL. That’s par for the course though when you start examining most prospects outside the top ten anyways. There’s just enough to make one wonder if they’re on their way to stumbling upon the next great power forward of our generation. That counts for something.