There hasn’t been too many prospects in recent memory that have given Maple Leafs fans a reason to be excited for the future (Alex Steen, Jiri Tlusty, and Nazem Kadri come to mind). Centerman Frederik Gauthier (Go-Tea-A), the 21st overall pick in the 2013 draft is one that will stimulate the fans with his potential.
Standing at a colossal 6’5” 215 pounds, Gauthier was one of the largest players selected in last year’s draft. Some people give pause when evaluating big forwards because their ceiling is much shorter than their lilliputian counterparts. But do not write off this brobdingnagian pivot just yet.
He is the #1 rated prospect in the Leafs system, according to hockeysfuture.com, because he uses his size to gain advantage on 50/50 pucks as well as putting the hurt on players along the boards. He compares to a David Backes or Ryan Getzlaf in that regard and also for his two-way play, mean-streak, and impeccable worth ethic. He has been relied on to win face0ffs in his own zone at crucial points of a game and still won more than he lost last season (56.6%). A defensive centerman is something the Leafs need if they intend to contend.
His offensive numbers aren’t dazzling like other Leaf prospects like Connor Brown, but he was nearly a point-per-game guy this season for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The Laval, Quebec native contributed 52 points in 54 regular season games and 9 points in 11 postseason games. He does not project at this point in his development to be an outstanding offensive threat but he does possess great vision and hockey IQ to put up points in the NHL. He may not put up Getzlaf numbers but he has the same tools and potential that could put him in the same breath.
Gauthier’s work ethic, two-way play, and hockey sense are the undeniable traits that have made him a top prospect for not only the Maple Leafs but the NHL as well. But there is still much more room for improvement.
His 18 goals and 34 assists at the junior level look pedestrian for a 1st round pick and may be cause for concern for the Leafs brass. He definitely needs to improve on his offensive numbers, but without sacrificing his defensive value. Gauthier has the tools to be a great scorer but he tends to concede to other players because he does not feel it is his role to score. He is a very defensive-conscious player and if he feels that him being aggressive on the offensive end of the ice will hurt the team on the defensive end, he won’t attack.
He is already a very mature player and uses his large frame well for a youngster but he needs to become more aggressive if he wants to be more than a bottom-six center. He possesses all the skills to be a top-six guy but defensive-first forwards tend to hang around the bottom.
Still, his potential is something to be excited about, especially if he ends up progressing into a Backes or Getzlaf. There is Selke Trophy potential in this guy and if that is the case the Maple Leafs have a valuable piece to constructing a Stanley Cup contender for the future.
He will likely spend another season in Rimouski and should have a spot on Team Canada’s U-20 team in their quest for a World Junior Championship. All that will serve as good experience for Gauthier’s development.