Cutter Gauthier only crossed paths with the trailblazer once, but the day he got geared up in a dressing room next to Auston Matthews was a memorable one.
“I met him one time. I was about 14 or 15 years old, and we were skating with [renown performance coach] Darryl Belfry, and he was the skate right before me. So, I got dressed with him in the locker room. It’s pretty cool to see our paths align,” says Gauthier, a projected top-10 pick in Thursday’s NHL Draft.
“Pretty cool to see a guy from the desert growing up and being the No. 1 pick in the National Hockey League and doing so well. You know, 60 goals this year.
“Such a great guy. Such high class. And he’s a great player as well.”
As the no-brainer top choice in 2016, Matthews broke the seal. But more and more great prospects are leaking out of Arizona.
Scottsdale product Gauthier — an 18-year-old playmaking centre/left wing — is just the latest in a growing list.
Makes sense. According to a 2019 study by USA Hockey, Arizona ranked second among all American NHL markets in the sport’s participation growth percentage over a five-year span.
We’re starting to see that influx of youth involvement in the 2010s bear fruit.
Matthews — the reigning Hart, Ted Lindsay, and Rocket Richard trophies holder — is the posterboy. But Phoenix-born Matthew Knies (Maple Leafs) and Scottsdale-born Josh Doan (Coyotes) were both selected in the second round of 2021.
So, even though Gauthier’s NHL dream whisked him east to train in Michigan, he has played with both Doan and Knies in the past — and he keeps close tabs on all those from his home state that have broken through before him.
“They’ve done such great things in hockey. They’re only on the uphill right now,” Gauthier says.
“I think hockey is for everyone. To see it expand from such conditions, especially [when it’s] 100 degrees out every other week, it’s pretty cool. There’s not many rinks down in Arizona, and I think it’s spreading. It’s a good atmosphere overall.
“The desert and hockey — it doesn’t really mix well [on paper]. But it’s cool to see all these players come out there.”
Gauthier racked up 28 points in 22 games for the U.S. National Development Team in the USHL this past season and faced off against Knies before the latter made the jump to the NCAA and the Olympic squad.
For those curious, Gauthier says, no, the Maple Leafs were not one of the 14 to 16 NHL teams that interviewed him leading up to the draft. The chances of Gauthier — a well-mannered, confident, 6-foot-3, 201-pound power forward — slipping all the way to 25th and joining AZ East are slim to none anyway.
Gauthier was actually born in Skellefteå, where his father, Sudbury, Ont.–born Sean, was tending goal for the local Swedish Elite League team at the end of a journeyman pro career.
The family moved to Scottsdale when Cutter was two years old.
That’s where his passion for the game sprung, starting from taking shots on Dad — whose NHL career ended with a pristine 1.000 save percentage after a grand total of three minutes and two saves for the 1998-99 San Jose Sharks.
“I don’t think he let me score,” Gauthier smiles.
But as his blade sharpened?
“I would score. I don’t think he was too happy about that,” Gauthier says. “Always a good time having fun with him. He played goalie at such a high level. And now me as a player, it’s fun to mess around. Whether it’s road hockey or ice hockey, it’s always a good time.”
Equally proud of his background and his versatility, Gauthier is adept at wing and up the middle. Despite his pro size, he is patient enough to not push for an immediate NHL leap.
Gauthier has committed to Boston College for at least a year, maybe two, and he expects to log heavy minutes for the program.
“I spoke with both assistant coaches so far, and they told me they want me to be their No. 1-line centre and control the pace of play,” Gauthier explains.
“I think I play like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele — big, powerful, lots of skill. And they can change the game anytime,” says Gauthier, eager for his name to be called to the Bell Centre dais.
“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous. I’m ready for it. I just want the day to come.”
Yep, it’s time for the ballcap and the fantasy photo op.
Gauthier has survived through the media wringer, the combine tests, and all those nerve-racking sit-downs with half of the league considering drafting the next Arizona phenom.
“A couple teams had funky questions. I think Ottawa asked if I had a sports betting app on my phone…. No, I don’t,” Gauthier says. “And then you got that classic animal question.”
If you could be any animal, which one would you be?
“I think everyone else chooses lions and tigers, so I tried to switch it up a little bit. I said shark.”
Ah, yes, the ol’ desert shark.
Rare but vicious.