NEWARK, N.J. — The Toronto Maple Leafs were rumoured to be making a play to trade up in the first round, but ultimately decided to get a tall two-way centre in their pipeline by taking Rimouski Océanic centre Frédérik Gauthier at No. 21 overall.
While Gauthier is about 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, his stock-in-trade on the ice is the hockey sense and intelligence he exhibits in all three zones of the game. The Mascouche, Que., native was able to assimilate well as a 17-year-old newcomer with the Océanic this season, emerging as a strong two-way player for a team which is expected to be a strong contender in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Gauthier was trusted to take a league-high 1,463 faceoffs and also was a presence on both the penalty kill and power play. All told, he counted 22 goals and 60 points across 62 games while finishing plus-22 for an Océanic squad which finished with the QMJHL's third-best record.
Gauthier's ceiling in the NHL game is likely as a second or third-line centre.
While he has excellent size, he's not an especially bruising player, although it's worth noting that observation is based primarily on a single junior season where he was hampered by a broken jaw that caused him to miss six games in the fall. As is often the case with tall players, Gauthier's acceleration is very much a work in progress.
Following the Océanic's playoff ouster, Gauthier had a prominent role in April when Team Canada ended a four-year gold-medal drought by winning the IIHF world U18 championship in Sochi, Russia. That attests to how polished his all-around game is at the age of 18. Whether he fills out by adding a physical component is the lingering question.
Championship-starved Leafs Nation is at least getting a player whose past two seasons have ended with championships. Prior to contributing to Canada's golden spring at the U18, Gauthier helped the Collège Eshter-Blondin Phoenix win the Telus Cup national midget championship in 2012.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.