If there’s one thing this year’s playoffs has taught us, it’s that you need a good blend of players that can “play big” as well as players that can play a skill-based game. If you can find a player that combines both, like New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider for example, you’ve got a player that fans will grow to love and opponents will grow to loathe. These players are not exactly a dime a dozen, however, so when you can get your hands on a player that has the potential to become that type of player, they are worth some serious consideration.
Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Coverage
That’s what teams will have in mind when they’re considering taking Cutter Gauthier in the 2022 Draft.
Very few players have risen up the rankings this year like Gauthier has. Back in October 2021, several rankings had him outside of the first round all together. Now just a couple weeks out from the draft, Central Scouting has him ranked as the third-best North American skater, ahead of players like Matthew Savoie, Frank Nazar and Kevin Korchinski. Once you’ve looked closely at his game, you can begin to see why he’s garnered so much attention since the calendar flipped to 2022.
At 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, Gauthier already possesses NHL-caliber size. As a left winger, he uses that size to engage in the offensive zone and try to outmuscle opposing defenders. It’s easy to see him developing into a wrecking ball over time as he adds even more physicality in his game. As an 18-year-old playing for the National Team Development Program, he already utilizes his size to box out defenders in the offensive zone, as well as to pressure attackers in the defensive end. Some players with size either don’t know how to use it or they simply refuse to; that is not the case with this player, and you just know that his development plan at the NHL level will revolve around using it more and more.
Considering his ability to use his size at both ends of the ice, it’s also important to note that Gauthier already has strong two-way instincts. He averaged around two minutes of ice-time on the penalty kill this season, and that’s while playing for a program that prides itself on developing all their players’ two-way abilities. Using his size and positioning, he is able to force turnovers and spring the attack with a breakout pass or by leading the charge himself. He has potential as a penalty killer at the NHL level, and that’s on top of his potential as a impact forward in the offensive zone.
In the offensive zone, Gauthier’s game isn’t just about being a physical presence. He also has sneaky good vision in the offensive zone, and he’s able to hit open teammates with crisp, clean passes. His ability to recognize plays allows him to identify passing and/or shooting lanes and effectively execute. He has a good shot, and he gets it off quickly and with a lot of power. If a teammate finds him alone in the slot, chances are that the puck is going to find its way into the back of the net. While his playmaking ability should not be overlooked, it must be stated that the last time he finished a season with more assists than goals, he was just 14 years old. His shot is good, he knows how to use it, and he uses it quite often.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Rounding out his toolkit is his skating ability and overall versatility. As a skater, he uses powerful strides to get up and down the ice. His top speed does not rival the fastest skaters in this draft, but he has enough lower body strength to keep up with a fast-paced, north-south style. His overall speed may play a role in determining what position he plays at the NHL level as well. As it is, he is listed as a left winger, but he can also play center. To that point, Gauthier revealed his intention to play down the middle next season for Boston College. He is already the type of player that coaches could move up and down the lineup as they see fit, and if he can establish himself as a capable center at the collegiate level, that will cement him as perhaps the most versatile forward in this 2022 draft.
What Gauthier Still Has to Work On
Much of what stands out regarding improvements Gauthier needs to make kind of goes along with the type of player he is. As a power forward, he is more likely to let his body do the work in terms of maneuvering around the zone and creating chances for himself. Because of this, his stickwork is not exactly top-notch; you likely won’t be seeing many “Datsyuk-ian Dekes” from Gauthier. He more apt to use his footwork to attack defenders and create space for himself. While this isn’t inherently bad, you would like to see him develop his stickwork more so add more dimensions to both his offensive and defensive game.
Another of his game to improve on is one that pretty much every player his age has issues with: consistency. On any given night, Gauthier can be the best player on the ice. The following night, however, you might catch him not giving that extra effort needed to break up a play or extend possession in the offensive zone. You cannot take nights off in the NHL, otherwise the other team is almost always going to expose you. This is something he’ll learn at the pro level, though – it’s just a matter of how long it takes him to implement that lesson.
Lastly, there is some debate about what his potential truly is. His biggest fans will tell you he’s a sure-fire top-10 player in this draft with the potential to become a top-five player when all is said and done. Some mock drafts have him going as high as sixth overall (from “NHL Mock Draft: Pronman, NHL source predict two rounds of 2022 Draft”, The Athletic, 6/20/22). Others are not as convinced, and they’ll tell you that he’s a safer bet outside of the top-10. To that point, he went 17th overall in THW’s Round One Mock Draft. While I think 17th was way too low for a player like him, it does go to show that not everybody is sold on him as a top-tier player in this draft.
For what it’s worth, I think it’s safe to project him as a second line forward at the NHL level that has the potential and upside to reach top-line player status. The fact that he’s going to play center next season undoubtedly makes him a more intriguing prospect for many teams, and it then becomes a matter of whether or not you believe he can reach his potential. To be honest, we might not have a clear idea of whether or not he can be that top line player until his first collegiate season is over. Unfortunately, teams don’t get to wait and see; they have to decide whether or not to draft him in just a couple weeks.
Given his two-way abilities and the fact he already knows how to use his size to his advantage, Gauthier is one of the more projectable forwards in this year’s draft class. Under the right circumstances, he could probably chip in in a bottom six role next season while receiving limited to no special teams time. That’s not the most ideal path forward for his development, however, and that’s likely part of the reason why he’ll be spending next season with Boston College.
If Gauthier’s season goes well, you could see him get a late-season audition in the NHL next season, similar to what the Seattle Kraken did with 2021 second overall pick Matty Beniers. Perhaps Gauthier will prove that he could use a little seasoning in the American Hockey League first, but a realistic timeline for his NHL arrival is one-to-two years. We’ll probably know for sure by next February what his NHL timeline really looks like.
Gauthier’s Fit with the Red Wings
This is the kicker. Gauthier is one of the best prospects available in this draft, but he’s no slam dunk. However, with the Red Wings picking eighth overall in the first round, there likely won’t be many (if any) slam dunks available when it’s their turn to pick. When that’s the case, you have to take a look at the best players available and determine how they would fit and what needs they would address.
Simply put: the Red Wings don’t have a prospect like Gauthier in their system. Elmer Söderblom may be a big boy, but he is going to be a winger in the NHL, and he likely tops out as a third liner. Gauthier could potentially be a center at the NHL level (and it’s been pretty well established that Detroit needs to address their center depth this offseason) and even if he stays on the wing, he could develop into that Kreider-type of player that is an absolutely menace in his team’s top six. A future top line of Gauthier, Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond would over the perfect blend of speed, skill, and tenacity that so many of the league’s top lines possess.
Also, while Gauthier is an American citizen, he was born in Skellefteå, Sweden (his father, Sean, played pro hockey in Sweden at the time of Cutter’s birth.) While he isn’t technically Swedish, everyone knows how much the Red Wings love their Swedes, so maybe he could help them fill their quota for this draft.
Best Player Available
This ultimately comes down to who else is on the board and how confident the Red Wings are in Gauthier’s potential. As a winger, he could be the next Kreider; as a center, he could become the next Ryan Getzlaf. A player like either of those guys would be a welcome sight in the Red Wings’ prospect pool, no question about it. Gauthier has one of the highest floors in the draft and one of the most projectable toolkits as well. Both of those factors together could very well mean that he would be the best player available at eighth overall.
“Over the past couple of seasons, his film has shown he sees the ice very well and is capable to be an effective playmaker. However, this season has shown scouts just how talented of a passer he truly can be. It’s not uncommon to see Gauthier dish out 3-4 beautiful passes a game, with the potential for even more if he sees an abundance of power play time.” – Paul Zuk, Smaht Scouting
“Much is the case for prospects coming out of the NTDP, he’s a strong defensive player who can be relied on to kill penalties. His positional versatility contributes to his success both in defending the middle, and defenders on the perimeter. He’s able to get in passing lanes to disrupt plays, and take one for the team by blocking shots.” – Sean Raggio, The Hockey Writers
“On the puck, he uses inside body positioning to get to the middle off the cycle or the rush. Off of it, he finishes his checks and looks to help his line get it back. I wouldn’t say he’s a menacing power forward type, but he has learned to play a very engaged, imposing, speed game.” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic (from “NHL Draft 2022 top 100 prospects: Scott Wheeler’s final rankings”, The Athletic, 6/6/22)