Frederik Gauthier is perhaps the most interesting prospect in our rankings from a voting perspective. He has slid down six positions from last year’s preseason rankings, and one from the midterm grades, to ninth this time around. Among TLN’s writers, Gauthier was ranked anywhere from fourth to sixteenth, so this past season has some of us confused, myself certainly included.
The reason for Gauthier’s inability to stay in the top five of our list, despite the graduation and send-off of Rielly and Colborne, respectively, is that he failed to show any real signs of a step forward in his draft-plus-one season. In terms of production, he seems to have completely stalled. Heading into the 2013 draft, Gauthier was coming off a season where he posted 60 points in 62 games with Rimouski in the QMJHL. He followed that up this past year with 52 points in 54 games.
For an NHL-drafted prospect returning to junior, the expectations for production are set at quite a high bar. And Gauthier isn’t a late-round pick, he’s the first guy the Leafs took last summer, 21st overall. While he isn’t a write-off by any means, his lack of output has sparked more questions about what type of NHL player he can become, where he might cap out.
The word on Gauthier is that his offensive game is limited but he can read the game well and be responsible on the defensive side of the puck, working hard to be in the right places. While those are fine traits, it likely doesn’t project him higher than a bottom-six forward at the moment, so he has some work to do offensively in order to shake that image.
“It’s not hard to imagine Gauthier becoming a point-per-game-plus player with Rimouski next season. In fact, it would be a disappointment if he wasn’t. Whether that offense translates into the NHL will be the difference between a very big, very useful, second line center, or a third line defensive and penalty kill specialist.”
Gauthier currently looks to be headed toward the latter, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, as plenty of first rounders never become noteworthy NHLers. If Gauthier becomes a useful player on the Leafs’ third or fourth line down the road, I’m sure we’ll be fine with it, but we can’t help wishing a first-round selection had more to give in terms of puck skills and offensive ability. That’s on the team and scouting staff, however, not Gauthier.
Upon his return to junior this upcoming season, Gauthier will need to take a major step forward in his offensive game in order to convince us he’s more than a bottom-six option. If he can’t, we’ll have to continue to evaluate him under that set of expectations as he gets ready to turn pro after this year.