Despite being one of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators have already carved out an identity for themselves as being tough to play against and a lot of fun to watch. Led by captain Brady Tkachuk, the team has become an in-your-face opponent that never gives up, no matter the odds. It’s one reason why fans have seen them surge at the end of both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons; even though they were eliminated from playoff contention, they pushed themselves to the brink to steal a few more wins.
While the Senators could use a prospect like Joakim Kemell or Jonathan Lekkerimäki, both of whom fill an opening on the right side and project to be high-end goal-scorers, there’s no guarantee that they fit into the team that Ottawa is building. Take the 2021 Draft, for example: with sniper Cole Sillinger still on the board, the Senators decided to go for the hard-hitting Tyler Boucher, instead. There’s little doubt they knew that Sillinger had the higher upside, and management has faced some deserved criticism for passing on him and others, but they made a conscious effort to add a player they thought would blend with the established core members of the team.
With the seventh overall selection in hand, the Senators are going to try and find a player that fits into that identity of being awful to play against. Rather than reach for a depth player with high physicality, though, they should take a long look at left winger Cutter Gauthier, who could be exactly the player they need in their organization.
Cutter Gauthier Scouting Report
Gauthier has been shooting up the draft rankings lately, finishing as the third-highest rated prospect on the NHL’s Central Scouting Final Ranking, and moving up in nearly every major scouting publication. Part of that has to do with his role on the United States U18 World Junior Team that won silver this past May. On a team stacked with top talent, he stood out, putting up three goals and nine points in six games and looking right at home beside projected top-three pick Logan Cooley.
A lot of scouts love talking about Gauthier’s size, and at 6-foot-3 and nearly 200-pounds, there’s little surprise that he’s caught the NHL’s attention. He uses his strength well, too. The Hockey Writers’ Sean Raggio wrote, “He has the strength to fend off attackers, knocking them off the puck in the defensive zone, and lay the body to create turnovers in the offensive zone. He loves to get involved in scrums when he gets the chance.”
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Gauthier is so much more than a big body. When compared to other power forwards in the 2022 Draft class, he is one of the best on his feet. He starts and stops quickly, employs surprisingly agility to duck and weave through traffic, and has a strong stance that makes him very difficult to move. Although his speed isn’t the greatest, that area likely improves as he continues to grow and develop his overall game. His shots are very quick, too, and although he can generally be found net-front, ready to screen or chip in a loose rebound, he has a fast release that can catch goalies off guard. He’s also an adept puck carrier, and while he’s not the most creative, he’s more than capable of using deceptive tactics and a long reach to keep the puck on his stick until a passing lane opens up.
Finally, Gauthier is a strong defensive player, which is a hallmark of those coming out of the United States Development Program (USDP). He reads the developing play well, and with his speed and agility, he forces opponents to the outside, creates turnovers, then quickly shift gears and transition back onto the forecheck in a split second. He’s also not afraid to sacrifice himself for the play with a blocked shot or a well-timed check. Yes, some of his skills are a bit unrefined, but at 18 years old, he can already do it all and will only get better with time.
Senators Need an All-Around Winger
As previously mentioned, the Senators have lacked a top goal scorer for the past couple of seasons. Thankfully, Josh Norris and Tim Stützle stepped up in 2021-22, and Drake Batherson is well on his way to becoming a top offensive player in the league. But after those three, few players can consistently put the puck in the net. Tkachuk has plenty of offensive skills, but he’ll never be one to lead the team in points, nor will any of their forward prospects currently in their system. The team needs to prioritize adding a few more high-end prospects who can score, and the seventh overall pick is a perfect opportunity to address that need.
I’ve also talked in this series about the need for the Senators to shore up their defence with a prospect like David Jiricek. Despite all the recent moves on their blueline, top defender Thomas Chabot has continued to play nearly 30 minutes a night, which is entirely unsustainable. Fans have already seen the effect of playing so much, as he missed 23 games this season due to injury, plus seven games in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season. The only time he’s played a full season with the Senators was in 2019-20 when he appeared in 71 games before the season was cancelled.
While adding a defenceman would best fill this gap, the Senators are also lacking high-end defensive forwards. In his short time with the team, Mathieu Joseph has become one of the best defensive forwards on the team that also can play a top-six role. Using team on-ice save percentage, he recorded a 92 percent in 11 games. The only other consistent top-six forward to record higher than 90 percent was Batherson, and he missed half the season. Without a greater defensive presence in the top-six, the team will continue to give up weaker goals and force the coach to play Chabot more than he can physically handle.
Then there’s the physical element, which the Senators have been all too happy to focus on in previous drafts. Boucher is arguably the biggest name of the group, but he is joined by Ridly Greig, Zach Ostapchuk, Tyler Kleven, Ben Roger, Carson Latimer, Cole Reinhardt, Chandler Romeo, and Roby Jarventie all bring an element of size and physicality to their game. However, only Greig and Jarventie are currently projected to be a top-six players in the future, which leaves much of the heavy lifting to players that regularly play less than 10 minutes per game. If Ottawa wants to be an annoying, in-your-face team modelled after their captain, they need to find a player that brings that edge along with top-end skill. Otherwise, they’ll crowd their depth even more and fail to make any meaningful improvements on the ice.
Gauthier & the Senators Make Sense
If the Senators want an all-around presence that can play top-six minutes there are few better options than Gauthier. The Swedish-born American finished second in USDP scoring with 34 tallies in 54 games, just one behind teammate and fellow top draft-eligible prospect Rutger McGroarty and finished first on his team in the United States Hockey League (USHL) with 19 goals, four ahead of McGroarty and Frank Nazar, in just 22 games. He’s drawn comparisons to some of the NHL’s best modern-day snipers, including Chris Kreider and Max Pacioretty, one of the NHL’s best goal-scorers since 2011.
At the NHL Draft Combine, Gauthier was one of the more impressive prospects, placing in the top-10 in five categories, including eighth in agility and first in the Wingate power output test, giving more evidence to his projection as an all-around player. With performances like that, it’s virtually guaranteed that he ends up in the NHL one day, but it has also prompted some scouts to look at his game and wonder if we have only seen the surface of his potential. That’s exactly what Ottawa needs – a player with a high baseline and untapped potential.
The one caveat is that Gauthier doesn’t have quite as high a potential as some others available at seventh overall. If everything goes according to plan, he could emerge as a second-line player, which is exactly what the Senators are looking for right now. He also plans to transition to a full-time center at Boston College next season, which is not an area of need for Ottawa, but he could end up back on the wing once he turns pro, much like Stützle.
Right now, Gauthier is projected to be a mid-first-round pick, which may seem like a bit of a reach for the Senators. But after his late-season surge, there’s a good chance he’s taken much earlier, just like Boucher in 2021; remember, head scout Trent Mann claimed that if they had moved down, their target would have been gone. So, if they want to add another player with size, but has the skill to land himself a prominent position on the team, then Gauthier is a perfect option.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.