Toronto Maple Leafs: Too Early To Call Frederik Gauthier a Bust


Toronto Maple Leafs: Too Early To Call Frederik Gauthier a Bust

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Frederik Gauthier walks to the stage after being introduced as the number twenty-one overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

It was not long ago that many people were saying that Frederik Gauthier was not going to mount to anything higher than a third line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but maybe it was premature to say that. Gauthier was selected No. 21 overall in the 2013 draft by the Leafs, who saw Gauthier as the shutdown centre they lacked on their roster. The reason why people were concerned about Gauthier was because the Leafs used a first round pick on a player that had a big frame and did not have much offensive upside. Looking at an article written by Sportsnet before the 2013 draft, it profiled Gauthier as a strong centreman who was solid defensively, but lacked the offensive skill set to rank him as an elite prospect; they also had two scouts give their lowdown on Gauthier.

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David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey said that, “He’s one of those utility guys — a little bit like Michal Handzus – takes good draws for you, blocks shots, can chip in with some timely scoring. If he scores 20 goals at the National Hockey League level, that’s going to be good, but you’re going to want this guy as a matchup player. You’re going to probably want him to keep other higher-profile forwards in check. He plays with energy – he did at the under-18s, like he did at the beginning of the year. If he can play at that type of tempo with his size and his skating ability and his faceoff skills, he should be a pretty good third line depth player.”

Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services, said that Gauthier was a centre that many teams covet. “Gauthier has great size, works hard in both directions and can really shut down opponents top offensive players well. He thinks the game incredibly well and is a valuable asset in just about every situation. While he is at his best and most appealing in the defensive side of the game, he is no slouch offensively either and is a capable goal scorer and set up man. He uses his size well to protect possession and battle out plays around the net and in the corners.”

May 24, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center

Jonathan Toews

(19) carries the puck away from Los Angeles Kings center

Anze Kopitar

(11) during the first period in game three of the Western Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

So the lowdown on Gauthier before the draft was that his ceiling was no more than a second line centre because he did not have the offensive capability of a Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, or an Anze Kopitar. The Leafs have been searching for an elite centre since Mats Sundin left town, and with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft the Leafs can get that player. As for Gauthier, the Leafs will give him time to develop, which they hope will be a shutdown centre that can match up against other teams top lines.

The concern about Gauthier becoming a bust probably started around the time that Tyler Biggs, a former first round pick in the 2011 draft, started being labelled a “bust”. Biggs was a player that former GM Brian Burke traded up to select because a lot of teams were interested in taking him. What the Leafs gave up to get Biggs still bothers many people because the Anaheim Ducks —the team originally had the pick— selected Rikard Rakell with the Leafs No. 30 pick and with the second round pick included in the trade they picked John Gibson No. 39 overall. When people looked at the players drafted after Gauthier the list included: Andre Burakovsky (No. 23 overall), Jacob De La Rose (No. 34 overall), Anthony Duclair (No. 80 overall). However, these players are with organisations that could let their players develop in lesser roles.

Jan 19, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward

David Clarkson

(71) and Carolina Hurricanes forward

Brad Malone

(24) fight at the Air Canada Centre. Carolina defeated Toronto 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The decision to draft Biggs began a trend with the Leafs where management overpaid for players because they were big and physical — players like: Tyler Biggs, Mike Komisarek, David Clarkson, Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill. Granted, Biggs had a decent season in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals in 2012-13 with 26 goals- 27 assists- 53 points in 60 games. However, it seems like the jump to the AHL has been overwhelming for Biggs and who knows how much longer management will want to keep him around for.

Then there is Gauthier who has decent size at 6’4″, 215 pounds, but has had difficulty using his size, although this season he made strides with his skating and offensive skills. Part of the reason could be injuries that he suffered this season, missing time with a concussion and playing for Team Canada in the World Juniors. Where Gauthier has started to earn recognition has been his play for the Rimouski Océanic in the QMJHL during the playoffs.

Leafs Lunch on TSN 1050 created a segment called “the Goat Tracker”, which would recap Leafs prospects,  but Gauthier was the main focus. In the 2015 playoffs with Rimouski, Gauthier has 13 points in 14 games and on some nights his defensive play has put him among the three stars of the game. Rimouski is currently playing the Quebec Remparts in the championship round of the QMJHL playoffs and will be heading off to the Memorial Cup. To me, Gauthier could be an upgrade on Tyler Bozak defensively, and we know that Bozak is at the most a second line centre in the NHL.

Scott Pellerin, the Leafs assistant manager of player development spoke about Gauthier in a recent article in the Toronto Star. “If there’s a penalty kill, he’s on the ice. If there’s a power play, he’s on the ice. It’s unbelievable really to see the value he brings to his team,” he said.

When asked about Gauthier’s play with the puck, Pellerin was not shy to discuss where Gauthier could continue to make improvements. “For us, the progression is: how do we get him to be able to attack more and be a little bit more aggressive on the puck. With my conversations with him, we’ve been able to have a bit of a dialogue in relation to the areas on the ice where he has to be stronger and the areas where he can be more dominant than he is right now,” Pellerin said.

At the Memorial Cup, Gauthier could be going up against 2015 draft prospects like Connor McDavid, and Dylan Strome (who could be a future teammate). When he played in the World Juniors Gauthier was out for important moments in the game and that should be the case during the Memorial Cup. He will also receive more attention from the Toronto media if he plays well during the tournament. If he continues to elevate his play, a move to the AHL could be a big boost for the Toronto Marlies.

Gauthier will still need more time before he sees a transition to the NHL, unless his defensive game earns him a spot in the bottom six with the Leafs. It would make more sense for him to spend some time with the Marlies and enjoy some success there before he gets a chance with the Leafs, especially if he continues to move forward in his development. So to call Gauthier a bust may be a bit premature, at least  until we see him perform in the AHL or NHL, there should be no judging whether the Leafs wasted a first round pick on him.

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