You may refer to him as ‘The Goat’. Or maybe you know him as ‘Mr. Puzzle’. Whatever you call him, the once-maligned first rounder has become one of the most loveable characters in the Leafs organization.
When Frederik Gauthier was chosen 21st overall back in 2013, it was understood that his ceiling was that of a third-line center – absolutely not the kind of player you want to be targeting within the first 30 some-odd picks. However, we’re starting to increasingly understand the value of elite defensive forwards, plus it’s not like there was much in terms of talent that was picked directly after him (except you, Shea Theodore. And you, Andre Burakovsky).
Gauthier was selected out of Rimouski in the QMJHL after scoring nearly a point-per-game while providing the Oceanic with stellar defensive play. Though Gauthier is known more for his play away from the puck, you’d still like to see a player of his size (and supposed skill) score at a much higher rate in a league that’s, historically, easy to score in.
Gauthier has also represented Canada internationally on several occasions, helping the team win gold back in 2015. If you remember, Gauthier played a pure shutdown role, centering Team Canada’s fourth line between Lawson Crouse and NIck Ritchie.
Before we get into Gauthier’s career numbers, take a look (y’all) at this video. What a loveable guy.
Alright, now that everyone’s feelin’ good ’bout Freddy, here’s a look at his boxcars.
As you can see, since he was drafted, Gauthier’s offensive numbers have been in decline. Whether that’s because he’s been asked to focus more on his defensive game or because his role has increased therefore upping his competition, I’m not sure. All I know is that, at this point, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll ever be a steady offensive contributor at the NHL (or AHL) level.
Because of that, let’s all relive Gauthier’s first (and likely nicest) career NHL goal. You guys know that scene from Old School where Will Ferrell’s character is at the podium during the debate and he just, sort of, blacks out and gives a great answer? I’d imagine that’s similar to what Gauthier went through here.
Friend of the blog @ziggy_14 (who does some great stuff, you should all follow him immediately) illustrates just how poor Gauthier performed offensively this season with the Marlies.
Gauthier’s production is quite poor but it’s worth noting that he earned primary assists faster than almost all regular AHL forwards. pic.twitter.com/cysx49ADZK
— Ziggy (@Ziggy_14) August 17, 2017
Of course, context is important.
Gauthier has been used, and will continue to be used, in a mainly defensive role. That means he’s out there for all the tough defensive zone faceoffs, killing penalties, etc. Now, that doesn’t mean he plays a defensive role against the best players, as Ziggy’s graphic illustrates. Also, throughout his 21 games with the Leafs this past season, his most common linemate was Matt Martin. Not that Gauthier is out of Martin’s league or anything, but those two together don’t exactly scream offensive ability.
It seems increasingly likely that Gauthier’s value will almost entirely have to come on the defensive side. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Good defensive players, especially centers, are extremely important. Look at how a guy like Brian Boyle completely changed the dynamic of a line when he was brought in. Sure, it’s the fourth line, but it’s a line nonetheless.
The other part to this whole Gauthier situation is that, uh, the guy has a tough time getting around the ice. He’s huge, standing 6’5, 235 lbs. To be fair, I did notice an improvement in his skating last year and at times he even looked somewhat fast. It is something he’s working on, though. If he’s going to have any shot of proving his defensive game in the NHL, he’s going to learn how to skate first.
Lastly, when you look at some of Gauthier’s comparables, even these guys bring something to the table offensively. Whether it’s Brian Boyle or even someone like David Steckel, these are players who, though it may not be at a high level, produced something.
What’s up next?
Before The Goat can step on the ice and prove everything I’ve said wrong, he’s going to have to recover from this cheap shot from noted trashman Jake Dotchin.
The hit occurred during last season’s AHL playoffs, with Dotchin being handed a three-game suspension. Gauthier’s hamstring detached, resulting in offseason surgery, physio, and even re-learning how to walk. The Leafs said at the time of the injury that The Goat would be out for somewhere around six months.
Remember, Dotchin is the same player who injured Kasperi Kapanen with this hit earlier last season:
Update: Minutes later, Jake Dotchin has injured Kasperi Kapanen with a hit behind the Syracuse net. pic.twitter.com/dV71oVEhNr
— Blake Smith (@Fiend616) April 7, 2017
He’s also the same player who did this to Andrew Nielsen.
He’s also the same player who tried to blow out Auston Matthews’ knee with this hit.
Sorry, sorry. Got a little off track there.
Anyways, Gauthier already had a tough path to the NHL and that injury certainly didn’t help. Sometimes, though, injuries end up becoming the best thing that happens to a player over their career, so who knows. Maybe Freddy did so much rehab on his leg he’ll come back skating like Connor McDavid.
Another part of the whole ‘is there even a path for Freddy to make the team’ equation is that, seemingly out of nowhere, the Leafs are deep at the center position.
Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Ben Smith, Domonic Moore, and Adam Brooks are all pure centers. This isn’t even taking into account Patrick Marleau, who can play the position, William Nylander, who Mike Babcock has said he wants to eventually move to center, Miro Aaltonen, Eric Fehr, or Trevor Moore. How many of these guys are ahead of Gauthier on the organizational depth chart?
There isn’t a single person who doesn’t want someone like Frederik Gauthier to succeed. He seems like the perfect teammate – someone who’s funny, easy to get along with, and puts in the work. Unfortunately, he was born in the wrong era.
Perhaps someone of his stature and ability would have thrived in the much slower, much less skilled version of the NHL, and that’s just the sad truth. I hope The Goat sticks around for a long, long time. I just don’t know that it’ll be as the Leafs’ fourth line center.