I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment where I’ve felt worse for a prospect than Game 2 of this year’s Calder Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Marlies and the Syracuse Crunch. Specifically, that moment where Jake Dotchin decided to chase Frederik Gauthier instead of the puck that he sent the other way, and vaulted him into the boards at full speed.
|Age||22 (April 26, 1995)||Birthplace||Laval, Quebec|
|Pos||Centre (LH)||Drafted||2013 (Rd 1, Pick 21)|
|Vitals||6’5, 236lbs||Acquired||Via Draft|
The second Gauthier tried to put weight on his impacted leg, you knew things had gone terribly, terribly wrong. Three days later, the 22-year-old was confirmed to have an injury that would take him out not just for weeks, but for months. Generously, a return date of sometime in November was given.
But what would he come back as? We knew Gauthier to be a dependable defensive forward who could sometimes show a playmaker’s vision, but without the foot speed needed to be a total two-way force. The Marlies offset this in 2015/16 by pairing him with a couple of quick-footed, skilled enough board presence in Nikita Soshnikov and Rich Clune, creating arguably the best goal-differential line on an already historically good team.
|15||2010-11||Collège Esther-Blondin Phénix||QMAAA||37||7||14||21||6|
|16||2011-12||Collège Esther-Blondin Phénix||QMAAA||39||26||25||51||28|
|20||2015-16||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||7||0||1||1||11.7||0||-5|
|21||2016-17||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||21||2||1||3||11.7||23||2|
Frederik "Freddy The Goat" Gauthier sets up Kasperi Kapanen for a tap-in to put the Marlies up 1-0 over Rochester in the second period. pic.twitter.com/zYXwd6A27y
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 22, 2016
This year, they did something similar, paring him with speedster and high-end prospect Kasperi Kapanen for much of the year, while at other times using him as more of a shutdown piece with Tobias Lindberg or Sergei Kalinin. What was impressive about his time with Kapanen, though, was that Gauthier’s feet were starting to keep up; his hard work with skating guru Barb Underhill was starting to pay off.
Eventually, it led to a call-up with the Leafs, where he took over Ben Smith’s role as the fourth-line centre for a bit. He wasn’t great, but the fourth line was mostly there to kill time last year, and in that respect, he didn’t look out of place, especially for a rookie who had to worry about that role, and penalty kill time.
What was particularly impressive, though, was how he played returning from the Leafs. He was even quicker yet, he was reading plays better, and while he only scored 9 points in the last 29 games of the regular season, he did so without much in the way of powerplay time and while threading the flow of the game through himself at even strength. Come playoff time, the pucks started to go in too; he had four points in four games in the series against Albany, had his chances in Game 1 against Syracuse, and then..
|pGPSn||pGPSs||Exp. Success %||Exp. P/82||Exp. Value|
|108 (15/31)||14 (T14/31)||15.6% (17/31)||18.9 (28/31)||3.0 (21/31)|
The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.
Players of Gauthier’s mould tend to get some NHL time, even when they don’t score. That shouldn’t be surprising; you don’t find too many 6’5, 230-pound tanks who decide to play centre. That gets you penalty kill time, that gets you fourth line minutes, that at least gets you into the press box on pretty much any team in the league until very recently.
Was it enough to bet a first round pick on at the time that the Leafs did? Probably not, but that’s a generation of front office people before this one, at a time where teams were still whiffing and where scouts still saw him as a decent enough option at that spot. He’s starting to run out of time if he plans on sticking for a while, though.
Besides the physical presence he is, Gauthier is known for his positional awareness, both in terms of knowing where to go and in terms of knowing where his teammates may be. He’s got a reputation for being easygoing, which makes him entertaining off the ice and unphased by pressure on it, but also means you’ll rarely see him go full power forward. He’s hard to knock out of the faceoff dot, and while it’ll be interesting to see if these new rules make things difficult for him, he went 51.1% with the big club last year.
Now, it’s just skating that’s the biggest question. Which I suppose it was a few years prior, but now the reasoning and the opportunity for repair is much different. This is a physical setback now, and not a technical one; if he can’t get himself back to where he was by the end of last season, it might be a death sentence for his NHL hopes.
The Upcoming Year
The good news is that Gauthier appears to be ahead of schedule in his recovery; he’s been training with the Leafs throughout camp, though he hasn’t been healthy enough to get into game action.
It would be amazing to see him get back in time for the Marlies’ home opener from a pure morale standpoint, but with an all-in rehab like this, I hope he takes his time to get himself as close to 100% as he can be. If he does, he’ll instantly be in a position to take a middle-six + penalty kill spot with them, while flying high on the call-up priority list with the Leafs.
I’m rooting really hard, on a personal level, for Gauthier to find his way here. Few players in the organization made more positive strides in becoming NHL-caliber players last year than he did, and for that to disappear because a player with a reputation for dirty hits made him his next victim would be terrible.
Should he succeed in his recovery, there’s little doubt in my mind that Gauthier is going to have an NHL career that we’d consider a success. Not necessarily success for a first rounder, but for a prospect in general; someone that can be relied on to keep your fourth line from being a liability and can help out your special teams will have a home in this league for a while yet.
Gauthier was almost there six months ago. Now, it’s up to that leg to be strong enough to make the leap. I hope it is.
To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed this post. If you did, don't hesitate to share it on Twitter or Facebook; having more readers will help the site grow. As well, consider a subscription if you're interested in reading additional work that isn't available to guests.