Freddie Gauthier probably frustrates me on the same level that Martin Marincin frustrates a lot of you. It’s not that he’s a defense first forward, I’m thrilled the Leafs have those in the lineup. It’s not the lack of offense, in fact he seems to come out of nowhere every so often to prove me wrong on his offensive abilities as well.
Gauthier has landed in a platooning situation for the fourth line, and that seems like it is the permanent fit for him, unless the team and player decide to part ways this offseason with Gauthier being an arbitration eligible free agent. The playoffs will be the last chance to see if Gauthier is still ahead of Adam Brooks, Pierre Engvall, etc. as the fourth line center option. And does he bring enough to the Leafs to justify keeping him. Or is he just a great guy you like having around the team?
By the numbers
So Freddie doesn’t see too many offensive starts in his role, but one of the things I wasn’t really prepared to see was how consistently he has moved the puck up ice. I wasn’t prepared to be proven wrong on the rate that he hits at, and perhaps the fact that he’s not hitting to hurt makes it hard for my eyes to see that he’s been pretty effective.
Gauthier’s net presence goals have made me wish we’d see him utilized on the wing on either the second power play unit or potentially with some more offensively gifted linemates more frequently to see if there is some untapped upside on his tap-in ability, but the Leafs aren’t really lacking for options like Gauthier with Hyman, Mikheyev, and Engvall all capable of filling that task equally well or better. Still there is something to be said for sticking with Gauthier, even if puck movement really isn’t his thing.
What we’ve seen so far
Well, like I just mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot of puck movement. Gauthier isn’t a premiere passer, playmaker, or skater, and that can be career limiting. Of course, let’s not dwell on what a fourth line center can’t do, and focus on what he does. Gauthier takes up a lot of real estate and has a massive wing span that serves him well. He’s not a strong puck retriever due to his speed, but he can battle well, and a strong player both low in his own end or as a net presence in the offensive zone. Ideally while he’s a good faceoff guy, Gauthier is better suited as a winger and the Leafs seem to be becoming more comfortable with using him that way when needed.
Gauthier’s year so far has included increased goal production, but has also seen the increase in number of Marlies coming for his job. Pierre Engvall, Adam Brooks, and Egor Korshkov are all ready to make their cases for NHL jobs, and the summer training camp could see Gauthier fighting to stay in the lineup.
How will he do against Columbus?
I mean, he’s a fourth liner probably playing against other fourth liners. Generally he’s going to do the same against pretty much anyone, but for what it’s worth Gauthier’s 3rd highest average ice time against any opponent came against the Blue Jackets. Both games were under Babcock, but Gauthier was trusted against this opposition, and could be again.
With Andreas Johnsson still injured and Nick Robertson a long shot to get an opening night lineup spot, it’s likely that Gauthier will be in the lineup. It’s also likely that his physical presence, and defensive acumen will keep him in the lineup throughout the playoffs. Potentially a 4th line of Clifford-Gauthier-Engvall could be a stable low risk way of eating up icetime.
Uhhh…Well, he’ll play about 10 minutes a night. You’ll be annoyed that he isn’t a punishing hitter, and he’ll get a surprise goal at some point.
Gauthier is playoff comfort food and hopefully that amounts to more than just pleasant narrative. Ideally Gauthier can be used situationally against the opposition’s secondary scoring, and potentially provide some penalty killing relief as well. On a team with not a lot of physical presence there remains some hope that the Goat will exhibit some form of mean streak, but at the end of the day, what you see is what you get with Freddie, and we’re probably going to see what we’ve seen over the past few years.