Draft position: Taken 21st overall by Carolina in 2016
Contract: Three years left on ELC worth $863,333 (We’ll get into this)
Julien Gauthier was one of those players that Canes fans were extremely excited for in 2016 when we drafted him, but fell off the radar a little bit. Why is that? It could be due to the underwhelming AHL numbers (25 points in 65 games) that he put up in his first professional season. It could also be because the Canes have had a lot of prospects exceed expectations since then. I’m here to remind everyone that Gauthier is still a good prospect, and struggling in the AHL as a 20 year old is normal. Gauthier struggled to adjust to the AHL, especially its pace, early on in the season. Gauthier was used to being taller and stronger than everyone in the QMJHL, and it led to a bit of a rough start in the AHL. He could no longer break through defenses with little difficulty, meaning that he had to adjust. After adjusting to the AHL, Gauthier started to improve. He started finding the back of the net, and started to be a real nuisance for opposing teams.
When he was drafted, Gauthier was one of the best goal scorers in the draft. He could score, and he was physically ready for the NHL. The biggest things holding Gauthier back were defensive play and his ability to make decisions without the puck. Gauthier impressed fans at prospects camp with his ability to outmuscle any player that got in his way, as well as his fantastic shot. Going back to Val D’or, Gauthier became more aware of things around him. He no longer had tunnel vision on the net, and he’d actually make passes to teammates. He did the same thing after being traded to Saint John, and became a key player in their playoff run. In Charlotte last season, a lot of his goals came in the second half of the season. He became much more comfortable with how Charlotte’s system worked, and was able to be a key player for the Checkers down the stretch.
Gauthier has the potential to be a top six scorer in the NHL someday. He’s physically ready for the NHL, and great along the boards. His work ethic is top notch, and he always learns from his mistakes. With Gauthier, you’ll need a bit of patience. While he’s NHL ready in terms of offensive ability and physicality, he’s still lacking in his play away from the puck and in the defensive zone. He’s not quite as fast as you’d like him to be, but he’s gotten a lot faster since he was drafted. Gauthier has put in the work to improve the areas of his game that he needs to, and he’s still got some work to do. This season will be a really great test for him. Last season, his ELC was able to slide, so the Hurricanes have three more years of Gauthier on his ELC. He’ll be able to show the Canes that he’s ready to take on a bigger role in Charlotte, and with how much he’s improved so far, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. Gauthier could easily be a top six player in Charlotte this season since the Checkers have lost a few key players, and he’ll do wonderfully. Having his ELC slide last season was good for him as well. If Gauthier proves that he is ready for the NHL at the end of the season, he could potentially have two NHL seasons under his belt by the time his ELC is up. It could mean for a bigger payday for him.
So is Gauthier a “forgotten prospect?” No, we’ve just had other prospects take the spotlight for a bit. He’ll be an impact player in Charlotte this season, and someone to watch for an NHL call-up if the Canes ever have an injury. I think that Gauthier could be ready for the NHL by the 2019-2020 season. He’s improved a lot since the start of last season, and we were able to see just how much he could contribute towards the end of the season. Another year could be all he needs to make the jump.