In the first round of the draft, the Devils will be faced with a tough choice on how to best improve their organization with the 11th overall pick. Will they be looking for any type of player in particular? Some teams will covet a big power forward like Julien Gauthier, but if the Devils are looking for the best player available, does Gauthier figure into the mix at number 11?
Who is Julien Gauthier?
Julien Gauthier is a forward who currently plays for the Val d'Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Gauthier is a big, 6'-4" winger from Point-aux-Trembles, Quebec who was born on October 15, 1997, making him one of the older players in this year's draft class. Despite this being his first year of NHL Draft eligibility, Gauthier has already played three seasons in the QMJHL. He was also the only player in his first draft-eligible year to represent Canada at the World Junior Championships this season. Gauthier's career stats up to this point from Elite Prospects are shown below:
Gauthier is a big, talented forward who, heading into this season, was looking like a pretty good bet to go in the top-10 in this year's draft. His second season in the QMJHL (2014-15) saw him put up over a point per game, despite him not yet being old enough to enter the draft. Gauthier remained one of the best goal-scorers in the Q this past season and upped his goal output but his overall point rate stagnated a bit with some peers catching or passing him in production. This isn't to say Gauthier is a slouch by any stretch of the imagination, as he is still rated one of the top-20 or so best players in this year's draft, but some of his peers were able to put together more impressive campaigns in their draft years.
Reading up on Gauthier, you quickly get the impression that he fits the prototypical power forward mold as well as anyone in this year's draft class. Obviously, his size is a major contributing factor in that but he is much more than just a big body. Gauthier has great speed, especially for a big man and, to hear scouts tell it, it makes him an absolute wrecking ball when he's driving the net. He also possesses a great shot that he is always ready to use at a moments notice. His positioning is noted by many as strong, particularly on offense, making him a major headache for teams in front of their net. Based on the scouting out there for him, as well as his numbers, he's undeniably a very good goal scorer and he bolsters that with strong puckhandling and good awareness on defense. If there's a knock on his game, it seems to be that he's so focused on getting pucks on net that he's not always finding his teammates when they are in position to score (as evidenced by his low assist total). Overall, he seems to have major upside as big scoring forward at the next level.
Where is Julien Gauthier Ranked?
Based on how divergent some of the rankings are, Gauthier could go anywhere between the 10th and the 30th overall pick, come draft day. His stock definitely did slide a little bit over the course of this season, though, with his #12 North American CSS ranking coming after being #4 at the midterm and Bob McKenzie having him outside of the top 15 he did back in April after having him at #10 mid-season. His rankings from some of the major draft outlets are below:
|NHL-CSS||ISS||McKeen's||Future Considerations||The Draft Analyst||HockeyProspect.com||ESPN/Pronman||TSN/Button|
|12 - NA||21||17||10||14||20||24||26|
Even if Gauthier's stock dipped a little bit, though, he is still a pretty good bet to go off the board in the mid-first round range, perhaps in the late teens or early twenties. He'll almost certainly be available when the Devils are up at #11 (unless the Habs are overwhelmed by the sight of a potential French Canadian power forward), but there will probably be at least a few stronger overall prospects available in that range.
What Others are Saying About Gauthier
Gauthier has been in the conversation toward the top of the 2016 draft for a while, so there have been a good amount of profiles done on the big French Canadian. Sportsnet's Johnathan Briggins did this piece on him back in the fall during the Canada Russia Series, when Gauthier was one of the few players in his draft year representing the QMJHL. The piece compliments his game and includes a few quotes from teammates and his coach for Team QMJHL. Some bits of it are below:
It’s hard to miss Gauthier on a night-to-night basis. At 6-foot-4, 224-lb., he’s built like a bull. His size allows him to park in front of the opposing goalie and wreak havoc—and most of his goals this season are from in the blue paint or just outside the crease.
"He’s a train, the way he skates," says team QMJHL coach Dominique Ducharme. "He’s not only big, he’s fast. It’s even harder to stop him and he’s got skills. You can’t see too many flaws there,"
Gauthier uses his size and strength to create separation then turns on the jets—his first couple strides are particularly explosive—while heading to the net at full steam.
So Gauthier pretty clearly seems like a player who knows how to use his size to his advantage and he adds in a dose of speed that allows him to overwhelm defenders. There is one interesting comment from a teammate in there on Gauthier's perhaps overwhelming desire to get pucks on net:
"Every game he wants to score. He takes a lot of shots on net. He needs to pass it a little more 5-on-5," says Val-d’Or teammate and Nashville Predators draft pick [Anthony] Richard. "Maybe because it’s his draft year he’s trying to do too much. It’ll come with more confidence this year."
So he could probably stand to distribute the puck a bit more. Given that he is often described as a bit of a force of nature, though, it's understandable why he thinks he can beat the defender and/or goalie every time, since he very often does.
Moving on to Steve Kournianos' profile over at The Draft Analyst, we see more evidence of Gauthier being a big time presence on the ice. And again, it's not just size, he also has speed and skill:
This June, not many draft-eligible teenagers possess a type of overwhelming arsenal of characteristics like Val-d’Or power winger Julien Gauthier, who has (literally) dominated his age group within the CHL in each of the last three seasons. Blessed with a solid build (6’4, 225 lbs), good speed and a strikingly accurate shot, Gauthier validated his rightful place among the world’s elite amateurs a few years back, when at 15 years old he was getting opportunities on the Foreurs’ top line and actually contributing.
So it's clear that he is a player who has blown the doors off of a lot of his peers in the QMJHL. One thing you wonder is how he will ultimately adjust to the increased strength and speed in the NHL He'll still be a big guy at the top level, but he won't be overwhelming opponents in the same way.
So does he have the awareness to adjust? For some clues on that, we go to this profile done by Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports, which describes some of Gauthier's positives outside of the big time size, speed, and shot:
Gauthier throws big hits on the forecheck, protects the puck on the cycle, takes the puck to the front of the net, and wins battles with opposing defenders. He also has an outstanding wrist shot, with great power and a hair trigger release. He also has shown good hockey IQ, and a knack for eluding defences and finding openings in the defence where he can set up to unleash a wicked one timer. ... One concern is that he has developed a bit of tunnel vision, in that he seems to fire everything at the net, even when sometimes a pass to a teammate might be a better play in the zone.
So it appears it's not all just brute force on offense, he also knows how to position himself and find holes in defenses. If he can just find a way to become a bit better distributor of the puck, he'd really be the total package on offense. Looking at the other end of the ice, Kerr comments that Gauthier has some ability there as well:
Julien Gauthier does show a good defensive game and that helped him to make Team Canada for the World Juniors this year. He plays his tenacious puck pursuit game in all three zones, back checking and battling for pucks in his own end.
So he's a guy who has ability at both ends of the ice and puts that size that he has to good use, winning battles on defense, protecting pucks on offense, and causing trouble in front of opposing nets.
To cap things off, we'll go to one last bit from the description by Curtis Joe on Gauthier's Elite Prospects page:
Willingness to play physical and win battles in his own end makes him a vital asset, stepping up at the game's key moments. Exceptional skating ability allows him to stay with, if not ahead, of each unfolding play. Refined puckhandling skills allow him to maintain puck control at breakneck speeds. All-in-all, a prolific scorer whose attitude and innate abilities will constantly propel him into dominance.
If Gauthier can take the next step and translate these abilities to the next level, he could end up being a solid pick for some team in the mid-first round.
A Little Video
Moving on to some video, we can get a look at some of Gauthier's play and the kind of player he is. One particularly insightful video is this profile done by John Moore, which includes interviews with Gauthier, his coach, a scout from the Sabres, as well as some of his highlights from the first half of the QMJHL season:
I thought the bits by his coach were particularly good. It's clear that Gauthier has major skill as a scorer but his coach also feels that he has room to improve and is very willing to continue learning. The comments from Buffalo's scout were also interesting, though it's clear that Gauthier won't be competing for #2 after cooling off a bit in the second half of his season in Val d'Or.
Next, we have a couple of full highlight packages from YouTube channels bigwhite06 and SEER VIDEO. The one from bigwhite06 is exclusively first half of the season highlights and features the Val d'Or announcer, whose goal calls feature amazing French grunt-yelling. The one from SEER is a bit more dance party and Instagram filter-y but still worth a watch as well (though some highlights overlap).
What's clear from watching is that Gauthier has really good hands and his impressive coordination shows up in a number of instances. His size is a factor that allows him to shrug off defenders regularly and he definitely skates well for such a big player.
An Opinion of Sorts
Julien Gauthier is definitely an impressive prospect when you watch and read about him. Combining his size with the speed, skill, and positioning to use it effectively makes him a great goal-scorer and a dominant presence in the QMJHL. He is equally capable of scoring on the rush or on a one-timer as he his of winning a scramble for a puck in front. If you are looking for a power forward in the draft, you'd be hard-pressed to find many better than Gauthier.
For the Devils, though, focusing on drafting a certain type of player isn't really what they need to do, since they have needs pretty much everywhere in their system. New Jersey needs to take the best player available on the board, and when the Devils are on the clock at pick number 11, it seems like there will probably be a few consensus better prospects available on the board. Gauthier is clearly a force in the Q and he seems like he does have the potential to become a strong power forward in the NHL, but he does seem to lack some passing ability/vision and he'd be a bit of a reach at 11th overall. If the Devils do fancy Gauthier, the smartest move would seem to be to try to trade down for a pick 5-10 spots back and grab him there. If the Devils do stay put and a player like Keller, Jost, or Sergachev is available, I don't think reaching for Gauthier makes sense. He's a quality prospect, but probably not the one I'm personally hoping for on draft day.
What are your feelings on Julien Gauthier? Do you think he is a type of player the Devils should go after? Are you impressed by his combo of size and speed? How would you feel about him being selected at 11th? How about if the Devils moved down to grab an extra second-rounder and took him closer to pick number 20? Chime in with your thoughts on Gauthier in the comments below and thanks for reading.