The Carolina Hurricanes are a team begging for more scoring and size, which could bode well for Julien Gauthier.
Gauthier has proven he can score, at least in junior hockey. He certainly has the size. His fitness testing, coach Bill Peters said, is so “off the charts” that head trainer Pete Friesen couldn’t stop smiling last week at the prospects development camp.
Peters will miss part of preseason training camp in September while he serves as an assistant coach for Team Canada in the World Cup. But Peters said when he returns, he wouldn’t be surprised to see Gauthier, one of Carolina’s two first-round picks in this year’s NHL Draft, still in camp.
“He’s on a good path, and he loves to score,” Peters said. “He’s a guy who literally loves to score. He’s going to take it to the net, he’s going to get into the dirty areas and pay the price, net-front. That’s what he does. That’s what we need.”
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Gauthier, 18, showed off his scoring prowess Saturday at the Canes’ Summerfest. After signing his entry-level contract, he took the ice for the prospects scrimmage and ripped a top-shelf shot that had fans buzzing.
Gauthier, pronounced “GO-tyay,” scored 41 goals in 54 games last season for the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after a 38-goal season in 2014-15. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound winger, he’s quick on his skates, has the muscle to take the puck to the net and can finish when he gets there.
Goalie Callum Booth, a Canes prospect who plays for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL, has known Gauthier since he was 12 and faced him the past few seasons.
“Great scoring touch, dangerous around the net, a real competitor,” Booth said. “To score 40 in our league is a real accomplishment and shows how he can put the puck in the net.“
Booth smiled, adding: “And he’s huge.”
Much has been made of Gauthier’s father and grandfather being champion bodybuilders, of how both were named Mr. Canada. Gauthier began working out with his father in a gym in the basement of his home at 9 years old, but he said he used the weight-training more to add strength in his legs and core rather than develop a bodybuilder’s physique.
“I was training for a purpose, not to be a bodybuilder, not to look good without a shirt on, but to be strong and powerful and be fast on the ice, a good hockey player,” he said.
There’s no denying Gauthier is a big guy. He’s thick through the arms, shoulders and chest, with the kind of build at 18 that many freshman college linebackers would envy.
But it’s Gauthier’s combination of size, speed and scoring that had the Canes taking him with the 21st pick of the draft. While some NHL scouts had concerns that his assist totals dipped from 35 in 2014-15 to 16 this past season, the Canes found too much to like about the big kid from Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec.
Gauthier was the only undrafted player on Canada’s 2016 World Junior Championship team. He performed very well at the NHL prospects combine, finishing first in the standing long jump, second in vertical jump and seventh in an aerobic fitness duration test.
Gauthier’s goal production did drop late in the season. He had two goals in nine games in March, then two goals and three assists in a six-game playoff series as the Foreurs were ousted by Blainville-Boisbriand.
“There were people who were disappointed in his overall game, disappointed in the season Val-d’Or had,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ director of amateur scouting. “He didn’t finish strong, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t working or playing well.”
MacDonald said the perception grew that Gauthier couldn’t make plays, that he was just a shooter with a big body.
“Not true,” MacDonald said. “He’s proven he’s more than a big guy who can skate and shoot. He can play the game. He’s a well-trained athlete and he’s still developing.”
The Canes took defenseman Jake Bean of the Calgary Hitmen with the 13th pick in the first round, Bean, like Gauthier, signed his entry-level contract Saturday.
While Gauthier’s father, Martin, and grandfather, Denis, won bodybuilding titles – his grandfather also was a Mr. Universe runner-up – he has an uncle who earned a reputation as a rough-and-tumble defenseman in the NHL. Denis Gauthier Jr. was a first-round selection by the Calgary Flames in 1995 and played 554 NHL games, accumulating 748 penalty minutes.
In a drill Friday at camp, Julien Gauthier and forward Valentin Zykov, a sturdy 6-1, 224-pound Russian forward, hooked up in a one-on-one battle speeding after the puck. Neither would yield as they approached the net and Gauthier crashed into the cage, knocking it off the pegs and into the boards.
“That’s good,” Peters said, smiling. “That’s called going to the net hard.”