If there’s one thing that the New York Rangers have made clear in their rebuilding years, it’s that they greatly value their defensive prospects, evident by the 11 Rangers defensemen taken in the last three entry drafts. With that much talent spilling into the organization, the Rangers found themselves in a bit of a logjam on the blue line while their winger prospects weren’t exactly shining after a few years of development. Cue general manager Jeff Gorton and his most recent trade.
The Rangers have completed their first deal of the 2020 trade deadline. In a one-for-one prospect swap, the Carolina Hurricanes sent right-winger Julien Gauthier to the Rangers for defenseman Joey Keane. Jacob Trouba’s arrival, Adam Fox’s development and the Rangers’ confidence in re-signing Tony DeAngelo made Keane a positional surplus as a right-handed defenseman.
On paper, it appears as a simple trade between two young players who are promising but stuck in the AHL. The change in scenery should bode well for both players, particularly for the Rangers. The addition of Gauthier pinpoints an organizational weakness, especially as the trade deadline looms on the horizon.
What Does He Bring to the Table?
Gauthier started his junior career with the Val-d’Or Foreurs when he was taken sixth overall in the first round of the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft. As a rookie, he scored 8 goals and 21 assists in 62 games while in a limited role. It wasn’t until his sophomore season that he began to find his scoring touch as he logged 38 goals and added 35 assists in 68 games. He averaged well over a point per game and 0.6 goals per game in his next two years in the QMJHL.
Following a 41 goal and 16 assist campaign with Val-d’Or, Gauthier was taken 21st overall in the 2016 Entry Draft by the Hurricanes. In 2016-17, he added a fine World Junior Championship performance to his resume, scoring five goals and two assists in seven games for Team Canada.
His role as a big-bodied goal-scoring winger transferred right into his first season with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL where he scored 16 goals. In 184 games with the Checkers, he scored 69 goals and added 34 assists. In 2018-19, his 27 goals were third in the AHL amongst U-22 players. His 26 goals this season are second amongst U-23 players and fourth in the league. He logged 405 shots on goal in his AHL career thus far, scoring on a slightly above average 17 percent of his shots.
As the grandson of a former Mr. Canada/professional wrestler and son of a competitive bodybuilder, the 22-year-old will do everything he can to physically fill out his frame. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds, he’s done just that, but not at the expense of his speed or hands. He uses his breakneck agility to beat defenseman on the outside and drive the net. He’s certainly not afraid to stick out his leg and charge to the far post, but also possesses a strong shot while on the fly. Ironically, he possesses a game that’s directly comparable to Chris Kreider.
Unfortunately for Gauthier, the Hurricanes have an excess of right wingers on their roster. His chances to become an NHL regular were slim with Martin Necas, Brock McGinn, Teuvo Teravainen, and Justin Williams rounding out the ‘Canes right-wingers. However, he should have no problem finding a consistent place in the Rangers’ weak wing depth charts.
Where Does He Fit In the Lineup?
Gauthier will not report to the Hartford Wolf Pack and will immediately suit up in a Rangers uniform on Feb. 19 game against the Chicago Blackhawks. It will be his sixth career NHL game. As it stands, the Rangers’ right-wingers are Jesper Fast, Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko and Brett Howden. They also have Lauri Pujaniemi, Vitali Kravtsov and Leevi Aaltonen as their more prominent right-wing prospects.
Assuming that Kreider and Fast are both dealt at the trade deadline, Gauthier will have a chance to fill an immediate need on either wing. His speed and size make him an ideal candidate to fill Kreider’s role but the positional need of Fast’s departure gives him a good chance at starting his time with the Rangers in the top-nine.
Head coach David Quinn isn’t afraid to get creative with some of his roster choices. It’s not outlandish to think that Gauthier could find himself on a line with Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad following the trade deadline. His role with the team will become far more clear following his Rangers debut but it’s evident that he was acquired in order to fill the holes created by future trades.
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