On Wednesday, it was announced that Julien Gauthier was recalled from the AHL. While it is possible that he is just an extra because one of the 12 forwards already on the roster is dinged up, but I think more likely he is set to get the NHL chance that he earned with a strong preseason.
With the Hurricanes off to a 4-0 start, one might ask what Gauthier could possibly do to improve the team. But even with the red hot start, a team should never be content, especially in early October.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers what could make sense for Julien Gauthier’s NHL debut and audition.
What Julien Gauthier brings
He is obviously unproven at the NHL level, but if he can make the transition to the NHL level, Julien Gauthier brings a rare ‘today’s NHL’ power forward skill set. At 6 foot 4 and 226 pounds, Gauthier can be a physical force. In a modern NHL where decent speed between the blue lines is table stakes to be able to play, pretty much any team can use another big body who can match pace and score goals like an old school power forward. Julien Gauthier has the potential to be exactly that and showed signs in preseason that he just might be ready to do so at the NHL level.
Gauthier won/earned this NHL audition with his strong preseason play. There is an odd mismatch between his level of score sheet production and level of play, but he was easily among the team’s best forwards during the preseason. I am on record as saying that if he did not get NHL ice time because his preseason effort that the ‘earn your ice time’ mantra becomes questionable. And four games into the NHL season, here we are. Gauthier will get the chance that he earned.
How should he Julien Gauthier utilized?
I am a huge fan of putting young call ups in roles that play to their strengths and put them in a situation to push to their upside. With a a center with decent playmaking ability on the fourth line, that does not not necessarily mean that Gauthier needs to immediately be elevated to a higher line, but I actually prefer doing this sooner rather than later once Gauthier gets his feet under him. The only way to figure out if a player like Gauthier can be a difference-maker on a scoring line is to see him play in such a role.
If I was Rod Brind’Amour, I would:
1) Start him on the fourth line (again this is not an old school fourth line with no offensive capability). Once he settles in, I would consider elevating him to play with some of the team’s top playmakers.
2) I would also consider getting Gauthier time on the first (originally anyway) power play unit. That group has not produced anyway. I would actually consider putting him in Staal’s slot as a net front presence. Gauthier brings the same for size and much better hands for finishing. I really think the only significant loss is Staal’s face-off acumen.
What stood out to me most about Gauthier in preseason was not what he was doing with the puck on his stick but rather his level of engagement without the puck. From day on as a Hurricanes prospect, Gauthier had the ability to ‘wow’ with an occasional rush or other high-end power forward play offensively. But in between those highlight reel efforts was too much dead space. Gauthier seemed to lack some combination of intensity and intuition for how and when to engage the puck. So by me, I think critical will be seeing if Gauthier can carry over his every shift intensity from preseason into the regular season. That makes him serviceable as an NHLer regardless of point totals. Then on top of that if he can continue to generate offense and finish at a higher clip, he has the potential to carve out a role in the Hurricanes lineup?
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you expect from Julien Gauthier’s NHL audition (assuming he gets it)?
2) Where would you slot him into the lineup initially? Where would you hope he lands after he settles in?