With the April 12 trade deadline steadily approaching, the New York Rangers are in an interesting predicament. They have too many forwards vying for too few spots, and management will have to decide who stays and who goes. One forward whose future with the Blueshirts is up in the air is Julien Gauthier.
Gauthier was a former first-round selection by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2016 NHL Draft. Acquired by the Rangers in 2020, the Quebec-native hoped a change of scenery would give him the opportunity he had longed for in Raleigh. However, his tenure has not unfolded as he likely expected, playing an average of 9:50 in 39 games in New York. He finally cracked the scoreboard, tallying the first two goals of his NHL career, in 2020-21, and he has eight points and a minus-3 rating in 27 games this season.
He will still be a restricted free agent (RFA) when his contract expires after this season, and given his current cap hit of $863,000, Gauthier could generate interest in a league where financial flexibility is a rare asset. Why would the Rangers move a controllable asset with untapped potential? Well, the answer is twofold. With the arrival of Vitali Kravtsov, Gauthier will likely be relegated to fourth-line duties, or better yet, the press box. Without a definitive spot in the lineup, a trade serves both parties well.
Per Vince Z. Mercogliano of Lohud sports, Gauthier is already skating with the extra forwards just two days after Kravtsov’s debut. With many players capable of playing on the fourth line and even more waiting in the wings, trading the 23-year-old is the best option.
Can the Rangers Outsmart Expansion?
The second part of the answer is the looming expansion draft. The Rangers will have to make more difficult decisions regarding who will be protected and who will be exposed to the Seattle Kraken. Here’s a look at who will likely be protected:
7 Forwards: Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, and either Colin Blackwell/Julien Gauthier/Brett Howden
3 Defensemen: Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek
1 Goalie: Alexandar Georgiev
The Rangers are one of the few teams that shouldn’t be stressed by the expansion draft, as all of their valuable players are either protected or exempt from needing protection. But Gauthier falls in the small category of “expendables,” and if made available, he would be a beautiful grab for the Kraken, in which case, New York could lose him for nothing.
With six days before the deadline, the Rangers should at least explore the option of trading Gauthier. His numbers won’t blow you away, and analytically he is a below-average player, but the raw talent is there. He has blazing straight-away speed, size, and a strong shot.
Gauthier is also only one season removed from a 26-goal and 37-point campaign in 44 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Given the right opportunity, he could thrive, which likely means surrounding him with a veteran presence and placing him in the top nine.
However, it comes down to what teams will be buyers at the deadline and could use a player like Gauthier.
Potential Landing Spots For Gauthier
Several teams will be looking to add talent at the deadline, all of which would salivate at the chance to add an affordable contract to remain cap compliant. Gauthier can provide that, but his value will vary from team to team. Fair market value for an unproven player, like Gauthier, will likely be worth a third-round pick in the upcoming draft in return.
The first team that might be interested is the Minnesota Wild. They are third in the Honda West Division but will not want to hemorrhage the future for a Stanley Cup run this season. They have two third-round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft and could use one to acquire Gauthier. He would fit their need for size and speed and could slot into numerous spots in their lineup.
Another team could be the Boston Bruins. The Bruins have been hit by the injury bug all season, clinging to the fourth spot in the MassMutual East Division. Their bottom-six seems to fit a particular mold of big-bodied forwards with Gauthier’s skill set. Boston will likely go after a bigger fish, but if they fail to reel one in, Gauthier could be a last-resort option for them.
The Rangers and Bruins have been trading partners before, most recently swapping Rick Nash and Ryan Lindgren, among others, just a few years ago. The Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues are also looking to make a run and could benefit from a cap-friendly add at the deadline; both have veteran squads who don’t need a big name to bolster their chances but rather a depth to strengthen their lineup.
Tough Decisions Ahead
The Rangers might wait for the offseason to make any rash decisions, but with the glut of forwards they have right now, general manager Jeff Gorton should explore his options at the deadline. Gauthier could make an impact down the road, but the Rangers have too many wingers listed ahead of him on the depth chart for that to be likely.
The acquisition of all their young talent will force the Rangers to part with several young players, and all signs point to Gauthier being that first casualty. He deserves a chance to play in a role that complements his skill set, something a fourth-line winger spot or a view from the scratch house do not offer him.
If Gauthier’s name is mentioned, don’t be surprised if it’s because general managers were calling Gorton to express their interest. At 23, his size, speed, and RFA status could be an enticing addition for a team on April 12.