The Jets at the Draft: Julien Gauthier

Julien Gauthier is a fitness freak, goal scoring machine, 6’4” NHL power forward to be. So how in the world is he so far down some people’s draft lists?

First of all I should point out, for fairness sake, that Gauthier hasn’t dropped like a stone on everybody’s list. The Hockey News has him at a respectable 15th overall, and the Bob-father himself, Bob McKenzie, has him ranked a comfortable 17th out of all draft eligible players. Not too shabby.

Other rankings are a little more varied. ISS has Gauthier all the way down at 21, and several other scouting services have him in the low to mid 20s. Meanwhile, Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce had Gauthier going 25th overall in his mock draft and Jeff Marek had him at 21.

Of course the only mock drafts that really matter are the ones we do at The Hockey Writers, where our own Chris Ralph had Gauthier going to a lucky Carolina Hurricanes team at 21, while Larry Fisher pegged him slightly higher at 18th. So why is there so little consensus on this kid?

That’s a bit of an unfair question, since there’s little consensus on most prospects in this year’s draft outside the top ten, but let me put it this way: if the Winnipeg Jets can walk away from the 2016 draft with Gauthier on board, they can call that a success.

A True Power Forward

Gauthier’s stats line and size would seem to indicate he should be going higher. Really, it might seem ridiculous that somebody with his skill level could slide to the Jets at 22, though as Kyle Connor’s slide to 17 last year taught us teams can do strange things on draft day. Sadly, Boston only gets one pick before the Jets second selection this year, but that doesn’t mean things can’t go delightfully topsy turvy anyway. It is, after all, the craziest day in hockey.

But, returning to Gauthier himself, what makes the nephew of former NHL defensemen Denis Gauthier so enticing? Well, it won’t be the punishing hip checks that made his uncle such a nasty piece of of business in the NHL for so many years, but it could well be his goal scoring. With 41 goals in 54 games in the QMJHL, Gauthier has shown he can put the puck in the net.

Gauthier comes from a family of bodybuilders, as well as nasty open-ice hitters, and is something of a gym rat. This means you’ve got a player with some NHL training habits already, and 225 pounds packed onto his enviable 6’4” frame. I mentioned in previous articles that the Jets can afford to be patient with whomever they select at 22, but they likely won’t have to be with Gauthier. He’ll be NHL-ready long before some of the players taken ahead of him.

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Gauthier has a wicked shot, and skates well for a man of his size. He uses that combination of skating and size to bull his way to the goal, and he’s not shy about the physical play either. He has more maturity to his game than many prospects, and more defensive awareness, though perhaps that’s to be expected since he’s a late birthday. He was also the only draft-eligible player to make Team Canada’s ill-fated World Junior squad.

So what gives with the drop in the rankings? All these things combined mean Gauthier should be a top ten pick, right? He may be the player most physically ready to step into the NHL next season.

Too Many Viewings?

Gauthier has the late-birthday working both for and against him. On the one hand, he’s had more time to mature than almost any other player in the draft, and it shows in his game. On the other hand, scouts have had time to watch him for so long that they’ve started to notice the flaws, and he’s dropped off through no fault of his own.

This happens to players every now and then in their draft years when scouts are impressed by their pre-draft seasons but aren’t blown away by the follow up, even if the player in question posts objectively impressive totals like Gauthier has. This is happening to Jakob Chychrun this year, and it’s far from unheard of. Some players, especially those scouts have been watching for perhaps too long, just tend to slide in their draft years.

And slide Gauthier has. He seemed a sure-fire top ten pick at the start of the year, and history may one day prove he should ultimately have stayed that way, but some scouts, like TSN’s Craig Button, have gone so far as to drop Gauthier out of the top 40 in spite of his goal totals.

Gauthier also has an odd stats line, and when goals outnumber assists as badly as his do, some scouts get antsy. There may be a growing perception that Gauthier doesn’t like to use his linemates.

Then again, the deficiencies in Gauthier’s game can be overcome. A player can be encouraged to use his linemates more, or prodded to be more of a passer. A player cannot be encouraged to be as big and fast as Gauthier is. You can’t teach size. And if Gauthier turns out to be a shoot-first player, so what? Many wingers are. Put him with a puck-distributing centre and you’ve got yourself a deadly duo.

Gauthier is already in NHL shape with NHL size, and the results of his training habits were on full display at the combine. His physical maturity means he could be an NHL player within a year or two, and while it’s likely not in his best interests to spend an entire year in the NHL this coming season, he could at least earn a 9-game look.

If teams see in the power forward from Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec what I and many others see in him, there’s no way he’ll be on the board at 22. Yet for every scout or pundit that has him in the teens, another has him slipping down into Jets territory.

If that happens, the Jets should take him right away and make off like bandits. After all, what are the odds a special player like that falls into their laps two years in a row?