Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

How a wasted pick in Frederik Gauthier was salvaged

The other day we found out our beloved Goat, Frederik Gauthier, is parting ways and likely heading to the Coyotes on a PTO. I guess, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone, but with him heading to UFA in the first place, it seems like the Leafs were ready to cut ties with the center.

Gauthier had a very interesting tenure with Toronto for someone who maxed out as a fourth line center, but then again, your career is always going to be interesting when you play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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It also shouldn’t be surprising when you’re a first round pick. In 2013, the then-Dave Nonis led Leafs selected Gauthier with the 21st pick, and aside from the Leafs themselves and some of the MSM who still had an old school mindset, it was a widely panned pick. Not only were there players like Andre Burakovsky and Shea Theodore still available to take, it was pretty well known that Gauthier’s ceiling was a bottom six center, and that was if the Leafs got lucky.

And this wasn’t just the analytics community that didn’t like the pick. It was pretty common knowledge among plenty of the mainstream draft experts. Heck, I remember that I knew it was a bad pick, and this was back when I though Corsi was a dumb stat and didn’t know as much as I thought I did about hockey.

Gauthier then spent the next two seasons with the Rimouski Oceanic, and despite his 6’5″, 239 pound frame and being an overaged player, he still struggled to crack a point per game in both seasons, although his team saw success in 2015 as the QMJHL champions before losing the tiebreaker to make the playoffs in the Memorial Cup.

He then transitioned to the AHL, and was met with mixed results. He was never bad, but he also wasn’t good either, and it seemed like he was going to be an AHL lifer.

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But, then a couple things happened that changed that around for him.

First, he took on a bit more responsibility with the 2017-18 Marlies team that went on to win a championship, resulting in him getting a much better look on the 2018-19 Leafs team (combined with the fact that their center depth was non-existent after Matthews, Tavares, and Kadri).

Secondly, he worked with the Leafs skating consultant Barb Underhill to work on his skating ability, something he was really lacking in, and he definitely needed to improve if he wanted to keep up with the speed of the NHL game.

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The result: he actually became a somewhat competent NHL player.

His offensive ability was of course nowhere to be found, but he managed to become a pretty good defensively responsible center in 2018-19. That line was insanely boring and did absolutely nothing for the eight minutes a game that they were on the ice, but they managed to limit scoring chances, and that’s all you really want from your fourth line.

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His production also wasn’t too bad, especially for Gauthier’s expectations. For someone who’s AHL career high was 18 points, he surprised with 14 points in his first full season, and then responded with seven goals and 12 points last season. Pretty average numbers for a fourth line center, but I don’t think people were expecting Gauthier to be average anything at the NHL level.

That’s not to say that his season was without problems. There were still some players Leafs fans would’ve preferred to be in the lineup over him, some complained that he was a bit too “soft” for someone who was as big as he was, and don’t even get us started on him getting ice time in the last 10 minutes of Game 7 against Boston when the Leafs were down 3-1. He also saw his play dip in 2019-20, where his defense became passable while his playdriving was still bad.

That, plus much stronger depth options like Jason Spezza and Pierre Engvall helped put Gauthier on the outside looking in come playoff time, as he only dressed for one game, and as such, we are where we are right now.

But, at the end of the day, we managed to get something out of that first round pick. If you told me three years ago that Gauthier would be a capable NHL player, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. His NHL chances looked slim to none at that point, and the fact that he became a pretty good defense player is an incredible accomplishment for him, and shows how much work he put in to get there.

And while we could’ve gotten Burakovsky or Theodore in the 2013 draft, we could’ve done much worse. Emile Poirier, Hunter Shinkaruk, Michael McCarron, and Morgan Klimchuk were all taken after him and went on to not even play a full season’s worth of NHL games, while players like Marko Dano and Jason Dickinson have produced similarly to Gauthier up to this point (although there’s a solid chance Dickinson gets much better still).

At the end of the day, it’s still a bad pick. Getting a fourth line center out of a first round pick isn’t ideal, especially when it was well known at the draft that that was his ceiling. But, it seemed like after that everybody gave up on Gauthier and didn’t even think he had a shot at making the NHL at all. But the Goat put in the work, and got rewarded with two years (and maybe more on a different team) as a capable NHL player. It wasn’t the best pick, but it could have been A LOT worse.