The New York Rangers relied on lots of young players during the 2020-21 season. Most of them improved as the season went on, but New York was unable to unlock the potential of Julien Gauthier. The young forward never got into a rhythm, and when he was in the lineup, he did not get much ice time. Still, he possesses a rare combination of size and speed and 2021-22 will be a crucial season for him.
Gauthier’s 2019-20 Season
The Carolina Hurricanes drafted Gauthier 21st overall in 2016. He played well as a professional in the AHL, finishing with 26 goals and 11 assists in 44 games with the Charlotte Checkers during the 2019-20 season. His strong play briefly earned him a spot with the Hurricanes but he played just five games with them before getting traded to the Rangers in exchange for defenseman Joey Keane.
After joining the Rangers, Gauthier got an opportunity to play in the NHL but didn’t get much ice time. He was noticeable when he did play, as he used his speed and strength to get by opposing defensemen but he struggled to capitalize on the scoring opportunities he created. He did manage to draw a few penalties by driving hard to the net. He finished with no goals and two assists in 12 games but averaged just 8:39 in ice time per game.
Gauthier’s 2020-21 Season
This season, Gauthier made the Rangers’ opening night lineup, however, his scoring woes continued and he was a healthy scratch in five of the Blueshirts’ first eight games. It took him a while to score his first NHL goal but he broke through in his seventh game of the season with a goal against the Boston Bruins. It was also his first point of the season.
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While Gauthier struggled to produce offensively, he showed off impressive bursts of speed and played with physicality. However, he also made a few bad decisions and took unnecessary penalties which led to his benching.
In March, Gauthier started to earn increased playing time and produced a goal and three assists in a stretch of five games. He scored a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers but also took a couple of costly penalties and ended up as a healthy scratch for the next week.
Gauthier had been playing with confidence but lost his rhythm after returning from the benching. He had no goals and two assists in 10 games the rest of the season as he was repeatedly a healthy scratch. When he finally had a chance to get playing time late in the season with numerous key players out injured, he suffered a lower-body injury against the Washington Capitals, which ended his season. He finished the year with just two goals and six assists in 30 games.
The Rangers fired head coach David Quinn after this season and perhaps his replacement will help Gauthier find his game in the NHL. While he was known for his goalscoring ability in the AHL, he has spent the majority of his time with the Rangers on their fourth line and he hasn’t gotten playing time on the power play. Given his size and strength, he could help New York’s second power-play unit by setting up in front of the net, just as Chris Kreider has done on the Rangers’ top power-play unit.
While the Rangers’ lack of physicality was exposed throughout this season, Gauthier played with some grit. He had 56 hits in 30 games while averaging under 10 minutes per game. The upcoming season will be an important one for him, as he may be running out of time to prove himself with the Blueshirts. However, if he can produce more offensively, he will be a valuable player.