Foreurs’ Gauthier QMJHL’s top NHL Draft prospect

After dropping their first game against Russia, the QMJHL rode a hot start to cement a great win for the CHL overall in the Canada/Russia series.

Val-d’Or Foreurs winger Julien Gauthier, 18, was one of four 2016 NHL Draft-eligible players to skate for team QMJHL in the Canada Russia Series. Gauthier skated on the top line in both games, finishing with an assist—a surprise considering his current stats line of 20 goals and just four assists in 23 games. Those 20 markers leave him third in league goal-scoring and third in points on the Foreurs behind Anthony Beauregard, 20, and Anthony Richard, 18.

After 38 goals last season, Gauthier was rated an “A” prospect in NHL Central Scouting’s September preliminary rankings and sits seventh in Sportsnet’s latest draft rankings, one of just “Q” skaters predicted to be NHL first-rounders so far.

Here are five reasons Gauthier is the top draft prospect in the QMJHL:

He’s big and strong

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.

During the Canada Russia series, he was paired with Shawinigan Cataractes centre Anthony Beauvillier on the top line. The 5-foot-10, 179-lb. speedster was given more wiggle room thanks to his linemate. “I was excited to play with him. He’s strong so it’s easy for him to win battles in the corners and get the puck,” says Beauvillier.

Gauthier models his game after power forwards Rick Nash and Ryan Getzlaf. Growing up, his favourite player was Ilya Kovaluchuk.

He has explosive speed

“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. “Teams are getting stronger and quicker every year, he has lots of upside,” says one NHL scout from an Eastern Conference team. “Because of his size and his skating ability, he’s not afraid to go to the net. At the next level, you have to go to the net.”

His shot is nasty

Gauthier is a shoot-first, pass-later pure goal-scorer and the running joke is he’s in contention for the Cy Young Award. Last year in his sophomore season, Gauthier finished with 38 goals and 35 assists, so he certainly is capable of dishing off the puck to teammates.

“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 Richard. “Maybe because it’s his draft year he’s trying to do too much. It’ll come with more confidence this year.”

Gauthier credits his teammates when explaining the high goal to assist ratio: “I’m more of a shooter than passer. I think my teammates do a great job feeding me so I can score goals.”

A high hockey IQ

Gauthier sums up his game simply: drive hard to the net, skate fast and take good shots. “He’s a good team player. When a person is in the right position, he moves the puck to them. He sees the ice well and works hard off the ice,” says the NHL scout.

He makes smart decisions and coaches trust him in high pressure situations. In the first Team QMJHL-Russia game, coach Ducharme had Gauthier out on the ice in the last minute with the team down by a goal.

Loads of potential

“With my coaches we work on my defensive game, always back-checking, always being in good position defensively. That’s the big part of my game I need to improve on,” says Gauthier.

“I would suspect most teams would have him (ranked) in the first round because of the skill set he has and the potential,” the NHL scout says.

In August, Gauthier was the youngest player at Canada’s national team summer development camp. It’s tough for an 18-year-old to crack the final roster, but the big player could bring some much needed size to the roster.

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