In 2020, the New York Rangers had an abundance of defensive prospects which led to them making a move. They traded Joey Keane who was showing promise with the Hartford Wolf Pack, to the Carolina Hurricanes for a young winger named Julien Gauthier who was starting to figure out how to dominate the AHL.
Gauthier, a former first-round pick in 2016 has all the tools to be an impact NHL player. He’s big, he’s fast, and most importantly everywhere he’s been prior to the NHL he’s found a way to develop a scoring touch. A lot of Rangers fans look at his skill set and see a Kreider-lite.
This season was supposed to be a big stepping stone for the young prospect. The team was hoping he could find a way to become a positive contributor and bring a blend of skill and power to the bottom six. Yet after almost 50 games this past season and close to 100 games played for the Blueshirts overall, the young winger hasn’t figured it out. But upon breaking it down, we may realize this isn’t entirely his fault.
2021-22 Stats: 49 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 69 SOG, 10:18 TOI/GP, 14 BLK, 98 HIT
Gauthier was drafted with the anticipation that he would develop into a strong scoring winger, but with less than 10 points in almost 50 games, questions begin to arise. In fact, if we compare this past season’s stats to the year prior, Gauthier had 1 more point in 19 fewer games in the 2020-21 season.
What happened? What could have gone wrong? Well first off the most important statistic to give us some context is his deployment and usage throughout the season. Out of all the Rangers players dressed in the year, Gauthier averaged the fourth least amount of ice time barely breaking the 10-minute threshold. The only three players to average less ice time than him per game were Morgan Barron, Tim Gettinger, and Anthony Greco. Other players such as Jonny Brodzinski, Ryan Reaves, and even Greg McKegg saw more ice time than Gauthier did each game they played.
Next if we review the line combinations that Gauthier spent most of the season with, we get some mixed results. The two players he played with the most were Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafrenière for a total of 141:44, which is approximately 28% of the 505 minutes of ice time Gauthier got in the entire season. The thing is in some ways this line was a successful one. They had a CF% of 51.6 outshooting and controlling the puck against the opposition. However, the result was still not in their favor as this specific line combination was outscored even while seemingly controlling the majority of play.
Examining his usage further, Gauthier got plugged into a bunch of different combinations, even getting a small look at a top-six role among Zibanejad and Kreider. But he began popping up consistently on the wing of Greg McKegg or other fringe NHL players, and from there the level of controlled play quickly plummeted.
We can take a few things out of this. First Gauthier was not given an opportunity or the appropriate amount of ice time to get comfortable and put his natural skill set to use. Second, he wasn’t given ample support on the line combinations he was deployed with and the few times he was, the leash from Gallant was far too short. A young prospect often needs to be put in a position to succeed and not used as a fourth-line grinder. He was struggling in parts of games, which for a young player can be a detriment to their success as confidence quickly becomes ultra important. The fact that he only played three games after the trade deadline and then didn’t suit up for one playoff game speaks volumes of the coach’s belief in his ability.
Gauthier’s ceiling is projected to be much more than an average grinder, skating with players who struggle to maintain possession or execute a breakout will not lend itself to anyone’s success, especially his. Upon Gauthier being rated or perceived as having a negative season this past year, perhaps Gallant and the coaching staff should be taking part of the blame.
This analysis thus far doesn’t give any accountability to Gauthier himself, and there should be some. Most hockey pundits and fans are split into two camps, you either need to work for/earn your ice time, or you need to be supported by your coaching staff and put into positions to succeed and given the opportunities to make a good impression and build some much-needed confidence. In a perfect world, the best answer is a combination of both.
Gauthier didn’t do himself many favors throughout the year, there were brief flashes of skill, but they more often than not fizzled out as he would shoot the puck directly into the goaltender. However as mentioned above, remember that skill set he has? You can’t teach or instill that in another player. Look at the highlights below and notice how he uses his speed and size to separate and cut through each defense. If replaced with most other players, that play and goal wouldn’t have happened.
So what grade does Gauthier deserve? He didn’t really move the needle this season but was he given a fair chance to make an impact?
Author Grade: Incomplete
Banter Consensus: D+
I initially gave Gauthier a C because while he did underperform, he wasn’t given the role he’d need to have a breakout season, but the more I thought about it, the more I think he deserves an I for Incomplete. When you miss time or don’t have the proper resources in a school year, the teacher will often hand out an Incomplete with the expectation the work will be made up in the future, the 2022-23 season is Gauthier’s chance to do just that.
There were rumors he’s requested a trade to a team where he could play himself into a role that hasn’t been available to him on the Rangers. We’re only a couple of years removed from his rookie season and it was barely a year ago, there was concern Seattle would claim him and he would go on to prove his potential. If with the Rangers, this upcoming year could be a pivotal one for him, he needs to make an impression early and secure a spot on the roster. But will he truly be given that chance and is he worth that chance are the two questions Rangers’ management and fans will be asking.