Today the Carolina Hurricanes announced that the team had traded forward Julien Gauthier to the New York Rangers for defenseman Joey Keane.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the deal from multiple angles.
First and foremost, the trade brings defenseman Joey Keane to the Hurricanes system. Keane is a 20-year old right shot defenseman who is playing in his first season as a professional at the AHL level. He will report to Charlotte and continue his AHL season. Keane was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft and is two years younger than Gauthier. I have not yet had time to check in with contacts who track the Rangers and their prospects closely, so I will not pretend that I can provide a ton of details about Keane. Hope is to gather more information in the next few days.
Julien Gauthier – A complex situation
The story with Julien Gauthier well before the Hurricanes drafted him seemed to have two sides. As a young player built in a new school power forward mold with a 6 foot 4 inch, 225-pound frame but with agility, speed and skating ability, his potential ceiling was incredibly high. But even as an 18-year old there were questions about other areas of his game. Originally a player who many expected to be a top 5 pick, Gauthier fell to the Hurricanes at #21 because of these questions. In his draft year, Gauthier posted a solid 41 goals but only 16 assists which some interpreted as him not being a well-rounded player or maybe not having the ability to think the game and make his line mates better.
Both sides seemed to transition with Gauthier to the Hurricanes organization. In prospect camp and tourneys, Gauthier was always good for a play here or there where he looked destined to become a physically unstoppable NHL power forward. But in between the highlights, he could be incredibly quiet for long stretches. He was not a physical force without the puck. He seemed to float a bit defensively and just not engage the puck enough. And even against same age players, he never seemed to be the type to be an every shift difference-maker.
In preseason action prior to 2019-20
Playing at the NHL level in preseason action, the same held true. Gauthier was good for an occasional highlight reel type of play that seemed to paint him as a can’t miss NHL scorer. But he just did not do enough on a regular basis without the puck on his stick and a head of steam toward the net. I lumped him in with Aleksi Saarela as players that could probably score some at the NHL level but not necessarily be a good NHL player because of the shallowness of their game. Maybe not so ironically both are now gone. Before the most recent preseason, I would have said that his ceiling was still incredibly high offensively but also that the progress in rounding out his game was modest. He still made too many errors in terms of decision-making and defensive play. And he still was too quiet for long stretches of play such that his contribution was mostly just an occasional single play or shift.
The 2019-20 season
That all changed at least on the surface during the past preseason. Gauthier was arguably the Canes best forward in preseason partly courtesy of seeing the most game action. The noticeable difference was Gauthier’s newfound effort to be more engaged. He hounded the puck on the forecheck and competed harder in all three zones. He still maybe was not as physical as one might hope but at least finished checks and sometimes threw his weight around on the boards. The result was that it was much easier to find Gauthier on a regular basis. He also netted a good number of scoring chances in the process. When preseason ended, I thought he had outplayed Martin Necas whose play was more sporadic. Gauthier played a team-leading six games. Only Haydn Fleury played five preseason games, and the next after that was a group of players with four games.
But ironically I think Gauthier’s finest hour in a Canes uniform might also spelled his ending. Though his preseason effort was a good one, two things lurked below the surface. First, despite collecting a high number of scoring chances, Gauthier finished with zero goals and a single assist. Generally, I think the line of thinking that if players generate scoring chances that the goals will eventually follow is a good one. But with Gauthier, I think the preseason might also have raised questions about if he would be effective as a finisher at the NHL level. But more significant than that I think his dialed up intensity level might actually just have shined a brighter light on the fact that his play away from the puck was still very much a work in process. Version 1.0 of Gauthier seemed to play a passive, hesitant brand of hockey without the puck. This was sometimes interpreted by fans as laziness or lack of work ethic, but I actually think it was simply Gauthier trying avoid mistakes by not making bad decisions. That might work for avoiding big ‘oopses’, but it makes for a player who just does not do enough when not making offense happen with the puck on his stick. To me, Version 2.0 of Gauthier this past fall was 5X more aggressive but seemingly just with the switch flipped to ‘go’ maybe without enough ability to process information quickly and read/react the right way. So while I think the go-go Gauthier from this past preseason was generally a step in the right direction and on the surface looked like an improvement to fans, I think it also showed the coaching staff that he still had a ways to go in terms of making decisions at NHL speed.
A couple short auditions at the NHL level (five games total) did not really yield a different answer. Gauthier was mostly competent but not able to produce offensively with only one assist and no goals in five games.
But to Gauthier’s credit, when he returned to the AHL he basically terrorized it as a goal scorer. His 26 goals in 44 games for the Charlotte Checkers is a pace for 48 goals over an 82-game season. He seemed to be making a strong statement for another NHL audition right up until the point when he was traded.
The decision point
The team will never say directly, but I think the Hurricanes coaching and management group just did not see Gauthier developing into a well-rounded enough NHLer. Combine that with his strong AHL scoring, and I think they decided to capitalize on a time to sell relatively high.
One interesting thing with Canes management since Tom Dundon took ownership of the team is that they seem to be more decisive. There is risk in that, but I think it is primarily a positive. The team unloaded Aleksi Saarela in the Calvin de Haan trade, let a bunch of AHL veterans leave for bigger guaranteed contracts and used Nicolas Roy as a trade chip to land Erik Haula. So trading Gauthier looks like another case where the team had the information it thought it needed and acted decisively.
The path forward for Gauthier
Though I do see the reasoning for this trade in terms of trading Gauthier, I would have preferred to see him receive an extended audition at the NHL level in a position to maximize his scoring potential. I just think Gauthier’s upside offensively is high enough that they could significantly outweigh his limitations if he puts it together at the NHL level. In that regard, the trade to the Rangers could prove to be a nice break for Gauthier. He will join the NHL squad and actually be back in Raleigh on Friday. And with the Rangers mostly (though maybe not completely) out of the playoff chase, Gauthier might receive that extended audition importantly with some room to just play and not sweat that a single bad game or even shift will see him back in the NHL. I also think that Gauthier could benefit from a change of scenery. For whatever reason, he seemed to fall into the category of player where coaching/management were skeptical which I think for young players sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think the range of possible outcomes for Gauthier is still incredibly wide. If pressed to predict an outcome for Gauthier, I would predict that he will sometime soon score enough to stick at the NHL level but that his scoring pace will be middle-ish (maybe 20 goals). I think that gets him run time at the NHL level, but I also think the lack of well-roundedness in his game makes him a ‘meh’ player who scores some but not enough to make him a net positive given his other limitations.
Brind’Amour’s ability to integrate different types (of maybe imperfect) players
In an ideal world, all players would be solid two-way players with well-rounded skill sets. But that is not the reality. There are many players who have limitations who are effective at the NHL level. The current version of the team has multiple players who are fairly limited in terms of finishing/scoring ability for example. But as a two-way player whose bread and butter was defensive play, might Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour have an over-bias against players whose natural ability does not include that skill set? By no means would I consider this trade to be proof that that is the case, but I do think it is something to keep an eye on going forward.
Too much of the same?
I wonder if part of the problem is that the Hurricanes current lineup already maybe has too much in terms of players who lean offense and have some limitations defensively. I like the development of Martin Necas’ game and do see progress on the defensive side of the puck, but he is still a work in process. He still has a tendency to float around a bit in the defensive zone at times and looks more comfortable when he is F1 and can mostly just pin his ears back and hound the puck versus making read/react decisions. Though they are veterans, Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel’s skill sets lean offensive/scoring over defensive play. And though he is also on a good track and has made progress, Andrei Svechnikov is another young player whose game is more advanced offensively than defensively. So this trade might also not be so much a vote against Julien Gauthier but rather an attempt to keep the forward group with a decent balance of skill sets.
The blue line depth chart
This trade could also say something about the defense part of the Canes organizational depth chart. I have said for awhile that the team is a bit thin on defense prospects. The addition of Chase Priskie as a free agent this summer was a nice addition, but coupled with the loss of Adam Fox because he would not sign, was a downgrade. And interestingly the top prospect is Jake Bean who maybe looks a bit like Gauthier. Bean is also a 2016 first-rounder who has developed gradually over four years since then. His game also leans offense. He has also looked to be in over his head at times in NHL action in preseason. But he has similarly torn up the AHL at least scoring-wise. And like Gauthier, despite having a strong season in the AHL, the team has not gone out of its way to get him NHL ice time. Keane is a right shot and Bean a left, and teams always want to have multiple prospects obviously. So it is not like it is a one or the other type of thing. But this move might also say a bit about where the team stands with regard to Jake Bean and his certainty as an NHLer in more than a niche role on a third pairing and the power play.
What say you Canes fans?
What are your thoughts on trading Julien Gauthier for Joey Keane? Pick as many angles as you want.
Although David Cotton (senior at BostonCollege) is a center, not a winger as was Gauthier, was the trade designed to clear a wider path for Cotton (or Jack Drury?) into the NHL and facilitate his signing at the end of his college season this year? Gauthier would have been exposed at the Seattle draft, Keane will not. Was this a way to not lose Julien in the summer of 2021 and/or add depth to the defense for the likely contingency that Seattle takes either Bean or Fleury in that draft?
On paper Gauthier looked to have the potential to be the next Thomas Wilson. The Hurricanes have no bigger need than the next Thomas Wilson. Most likely player development decided Gauthier lacked the intangible to be that type of player. If unable or unwilling to use his size as aggressively as Wilson, Gauthier is likely just a replaceable depth forward.
The move was not salary related as both players are still on entry level deals next season (Keane has one additional year before becoming an RFA). Gauthier will join Phil Di Guiseppe and Greg McGegg on the Rangers. Hopefully he is as much a force for the Rangers as those players have been.
I think you hit the nail on the head with the Wilson comparison. Gauthier showed little interest in using his body in the way that would put him in the NHL today.
I will take the flip on this. Gauthier is a big body who plays a skill/speed game – there is no reason he should turn into a Wilson-like thug just because he is big and strong – there are plenty of big forwards who aren’t thugs,but few skate with the speed that Gauthier possesses.
Could turning into a thug have helped him get NHL ice time? – possibly, but the organization wasn’t even working with him to do that. They wanted faster starts and better defensive acumen – what he was working on in CLT. While he was showing incremental improvement in those ways, it wasn’t enough given the others that Matt mentions.
Could he have played with more “snarl” (Tripp Tracy’s term) – the way Fleury came out to play this season? – more likely that than being a thug, and playing with an edge would have benefited him at the NHL level.
But I think, like a lot of players trying to make it in the bigs, he played cautious on NHL ice – afraid to make mistakes. So he couldn’t even get his own speed/skill game going.
While this may be a very unpopular opinion around here, outside of his stupid hits Tom Wilson is one hell of a hockey player. He skates well, can chip in offensively, is responsible in his own zone, and plays with a lot of grit and sandpaper annoying the hell out of opponents. Pretty much what you describe as “snarl.” Labeling Wilson as nothing but a thug is inaccurate.
Every team wants a Tom Wilson less the insanely stupid hits.
Lessthanstable captured my thoughts on Wilson as I meant them.
Because of his speed, skill, size and aggressiveness Wilson changes the way teams have to match up and play against his line. The fear factor he creates just makes the Caps a harder team to play against. Perhaps a healthy Michael Ferland would be a comparison that has less negative imagery than Wilson. The addition of that dimension to our top 6 would make the Canes much harder to play against.
Curious trade on the surface but our brain-trust has generally been fairly spot-on with their evaluations of players in the system. Really, I can’t really think of a prospect who we’ve traded recently that made the leap to the NHL other than Roy.
I would have liked to have seen the current version of Gauthier with more scoring confidence but, whatever, it’s hard to bet against the trades we’ve made with prospects. Still waiting for the bigger trade.
I think your summary under “The decision point” covers it effectively – O/M/C knew what we had in Gauthier and that he wasn’t going to be a fit on the Canes. Selling “high” while he is tearing up the AHL with goal-scoring makes sense and we got a great return on him.
I was impressed watching him in CLT this year (both in person and on AHLTV) – he is a much more complete player and his offensive confidence is through the roof – something you couldn’t say about him his previous seasons there.
But I don’t see him getting an extended audition here while we are sitting on the playoff bubble.
And one discussion point you missed, Matt, I read he will no longer be waiver exempt next season (correct me if I am wrong) – and he is the type of player who most likely will be claimed, at least there is a real risk of it.
I think this is a great move for Gauthier. He is going to get the opportunity in NY that he was not going to get here. I expect NYR will give him more opportunities to learn from mistakes rather than fear those mistakes – the team has some good young forwards and he could fit in well. Regardless, he is going to get his chance – and I hope he slays it.
I think this is a good trade for the Canes. Gauthier has had his chances and not made the most of them. Yes, he can score at the AHL level. Does he create offense? No. Is he smart defensively? No. Does he play a hard physical game with some sandpaper? No. I believe the Canes ran out of patience for him to develop another part of his game.
Keane is a very nice piece to get in return. A first year pro who was named to the AHL all-star game. That’s impressive. The Rangers are stocked with RH defensemen, so Keane was expendable. At 6′ 185lb Keane is probably as big as he’s going to be. He’s been around that size for a while I believe. He’s an offensive defenseman and will probably have a good shot to make the Canes roster next season.
I don’t think trading for Keane is a commentary on Bean as much as it is on Priskie. Bean is a lefty while Priskie is a righty. From what I’ve heard Priskie still has a long way to go with his play without the puck.
While I hope this isn’t the case, it will be interesting to see what the Canes do if Fleury is out for a game or more. Will Bean get his shot, or will they go straight to Keane?
Need to recheck waivers thing later. I looked at that but was thinking he was still exempt for 1 more year.
But now that I think about it, he only played 1 year not maximum 2 in QMJHL after being drafted, so I think it is correct that does pull his waiver situation in a year.
That would be significant. If he must clear waivers next year, Canes get forced into either playing him in the NHL or trading him.
FWIW. Writers on the Rangers SBN website feel that Gauthier will be waiver eligible next season.
I would assume that is correct. I forgot when writing this last night that Gauthier skipped his last season of juniors to make an early jump to the AHL. That would put him 1 year earlier on losing his waivers exemption.
As TJ pointed out, this forces the Canes hand. He would certainly be claimed off waivers which forces the Canes hand for next season to either give him an NHL slot or trade him. They chose the latter and did so a bit early.
My take on this deal is based upon the following reasoning. If a team needs top pairing defensemen in today’s league you have to develop them yourself. You have heard all through the lead up to the trade deadline that nobody is going to trade you a top pairing defenseman. The Canes next season will possibly need to replace two or three defensemen (VanReimsdyk, Edmundson, etc.). From what I have read Bean and Keane are both NHL ready right now (think Maker Colorado type situation). If a team needs a scoring winger(assuming Gauthier is such a player), they are usually available through trade if need be (Tofolli, Zucker, etc.). This coupled with the need to constantly clear cap space for resigning the team’s star players (Yes, we do have these type players now due to Dundon, etc.) means having to insert low salary young players into the lineup. Inserting Bean and Keane will provide such salary relief.
I have read all the above and can’t, nor do I want to, argue with the reasoning of the other comments. Keep in mind when you read my views, no one has ever said I was the Nostradamus of the hockey world. In fact, my wife would tell you “I don’t know a damn thing” and when she says that I assume she includes things about hockey.
Why does everyone forget about McKeown. He is more solid defensively than Bean. I think he deserves consideration as well.
I have seen Bean live twice at the Checkers recent home stand. Granted he can handle the puck and has much stronger offensive skills but he still needs some work on give aways in the offensive zone and blue line area. I think he is in the stage of development defensively that Fleury was early in his career. I just don’t think he is ready for prime time. It is going to take some time but when he gets it it will be fun to watch.
Also have been impressed with Kaski. He has a wicked slap shot and holds his own in the defensive end with his size.
One last thing I hated to see Gauthier go. He was by far the best player on the ice for the games I just recently attended. I wish him the best.
Roland McKeown has always been shuffled off into a second tier for whatever reason.
From watching him play (mostly preseason, prospect camps/tourneys), I think his ceiling is that of a #5 defenseman (nothing wrong with that). But couple things that intrigue me. Even if unspectacular he makes step-wise progress every time I check in on him again. He plays his best under some pressure and at (or close to) NHL level. He came from off the depth chart to win an NHL roster spot in training camp 2 years ago before team decided instead to go the waiver wire route.
Players who seem to get better not worse under pressure/in the NHL maybe have that ‘it’ factor such that they can grow into whatever level they are pushed up to.
My problem with this was that Gauthier was a player that, by al the signs, seemed to be on the rise.
I don’t see why he wouldn’t get another audition with the big club to see where he’s a before pullin of a trade.
Given how RBA manages AHL prospects, especially on d, it will be around 3 years until any of the AHL defensemen are given a series of games to contribute, or until Gardner’s contract expires, unless he’s resigned of course.
I am not sure what to think. Gauthier was probably the best forward prospect. We have seen before that goals in the AHL does not necessarily translate to goals at the NHL. I think our brain trust does very much care about developing future D. I do not know if we sold high because I do not know much about the return. It could be looking forward to protecting players for next year waivers or expansion draft. I am scratching my head, but they have made some pretty good player moves.
I think there is more context to this trade. While Gauthier is having a great year, he was no longer the only right-shot goal scorer in the system. With the addition of Bokk, Gauthier’s skill set was no longer unique. Also with Teravainen and Necas (unless he is converted to C in the next year or two) the top RW spots won’t be open for the next 4 seasons.
The other bit of context is the right-shot Dmen the organization has added. Priskie led the NCAA in goals by a Dman, Kaski led Liiga by a wide margin in goals for a Dman last season, and Keane has more AHL goals than other highly touted scorers like Bouchard and Cal Foote. If any of the Canes three prospects proves able to score double digits goals in the NHL, then management can draw a line with Hamilton’s salary. The context being that so far only one player, Teravainen, has been signed to a “big money” contract while all of Hanifin, Lindholm, and Faulk, have been moved and even Aho was allowed to “go to market.”
I hope Bock pans out, I think that’s what the canes are betting on.
I also hope all the RHD prospects get a fair shot with the big club. Like you said, even if only one of them pans out that’s a D man on an entry level (or cheap) contract, which is always a good ting.