This is another in my questions you’ll automatically answer “no” to series. Having also written about Matt Read and Ben Harpur earlier, I feel I’m embarking on an unfortunate trend of writing about replacement level players who barely fit into the Toronto Maple Leafs plans going forward. This seems like a ridiculous endeavour, but unfortunately, it’s what training camp is all about. At the end of the day we know the star players are going to play with the other star players, and not much matters there until regular season. If you want to maximize the interest level in training camp, unfortunately you have to start caring about what happens with players like Freddie Gauthier.
Here’s why I’m talking to you about Frederick Gauthier. While Gauthier can pull off being a limited ice time 4th line center that you occasionally don’t mind seeing healthy scratched for a more intriguing option, clinging to a spot at the bottom of the roster isn’t much of a guarantee of his continued work in that role continuing much longer, and when the Leafs brought in Jason Spezza, Nick Shore, and potentially have Marlies like Pierre Engvall and Adam Brooks trying to make their case for time on the Leafs roster this year. Throw in other job combatants like Kalle Kossila, Tyler Gaudet, and of course, Nic Petan, and Gauthier is dealing with a rather crowded field for the 4C or 13F positions.
Well, somehow his scoring rates might be the selling point on Gauthier, and that’s a scary thought. That story changes significantly when you look at his regulated adjusted +/- results via evolving-hockey.com.
Yeah, at least it looks like the kid can defend well against other 4th liners and 107 games into his NHL career, it seems like we can identify that Gauthier isn’t likely to be much more than this at center.
Perhaps one of the other telling things about Gauthier is that as a defense first forward, he didn’t receive any time on the penalty kill last season in his 70 games. Wait, that’s hyperbole, let’s be honest, Gauthier played 13:02 minutes of the penalty kill across the season averaging 11 seconds per game. Given the fact that Hyman is hurt, Marner isn’t signed, and Connor Brown is gone there’s a possibility that in training camp Gauthier can earn his keep in this capacity, but Trevor Moore and Nick Shore are probably ahead of him in that competition even before it starts.
The one thing that Gauthier has to his name is his faceoff winning percentage, a respectable 54% on his 447 draws, a number that number might only put him in the middle of the pack on the Leafs, who were generally good on faceoffs last year, but having four centers who can immediately get possession of the puck is a plus, and is likely a prerequisite talent of fourth line center.
The last thing to note on the Goat is that no matter what he’s still 6’5 and 235 lbs. And that is often a hard thing for coaches, GMs, and organizations to look past. His status as a 1st round pick with size has probably given him opportunities beyond what a shorter, midround pick of similar abilities would receive.
Gauthier probably shouldn’t be the Leafs fourth line center. That doesn’t mean that he won’t be on the Leafs though, as he might be a favourable option as the 13th or 14th forward, or the other option…
What about putting Gauthier on wing?
Yep, folks. I didn’t learn my lesson from suggesting that Ben Harpur should play wing and receiving your backlash over that idea, I’m going to float it again, but in a situation that makes marginally more sense for a few reasons.
- Gauthier is already a forward
- Gauthier is a better hockey player than Ben Harpur
- The second point but stated again because I really don’t think Ben Harpur is any good.
Putting Gauthier on wing allows him to potentially continue on his role as “4th line faceoff guy” assuming he’s stronger in his abilities over the actual center. It also allows the Leafs to keep a bit of size in their lineup as Gauthier is significantly bigger than most of the players he’d be competing against for that 4th line role (Petan, Aberg, Agostino, Moore, etc.)
It allows for Gauthier to potentially serve in a penalty killing role if his aptitude towards that earn him a spot on the roster, and it also gets him out of the center of the ice where speed is king, and moves him to a situation where his lack of foot speed makes him less of a liability.
Of course moving Gauthier to wing instead of going with a natural winger only makes sense if he’s capable of providing a skill that the other wingers don’t have, and that would be turning Gauthier into a net presence, that can ideally someday function beyond the 4th line. That’s probably an uphill battle considering the complete lack of mean streak existing in Gauthier, but nevertheless is the idea that makes it all worth while. Parking a behemoth in front of the net was a staple of Babcock’s Red Wings, but something that hasn’t really happened in his Toronto years. At best it introduces a new element to the Leafs offence, at worst the Leafs give up on Freddie Gauthier a little further into the season instead of right out of camp.
Back to reality…
Okay, this idea probably is just about as bad as my Ben Harpur one. If the Leafs are looking for adding a net presence at the bottom of their roster, likely as a winger, they do have options in Mason Marchment, Pierre Engvall, and Egor Korshkov, and Marchment and Engvall have a bit more physical edge to them as well. Trying to carve out a new role for Gauthier might be as pointless as using him in the one that he’s been currently playing, and perhaps the best case for developing him as a winger is to increase his efficiency in a 13th forward role, giving him the opportunity to jump into the lineup as needed at any of the forward positions instead of being a center or bust.
As a 100+ game player in the NHL with being a 1st round pick on his resume, it seems there is a possibility he won’t clear waivers if demoted to the Marlies, and that’s up to Kyle Dubas to decide if losing Gauthier for nothing is something he can live with. The reality is that there might be some possibility of trading Gauthier for a late round pick, AHLer, or Future Considerations instead of waiving him, but potentially what Gauthier could provide the Leafs on the Marlies is worth not getting that return, as he has proven to be a well liked teammate, solid AHLer, and someone who could serve the Leafs well as a callup if injuries chip away at the center position.
In conclusion, Gauthier is a replacement level player and whether or not he’s on the roster won’t make or break the Leafs in anyway. It will just be interesting to see what becomes of this long time Leafs prospect in the coming weeks.