Cutter Gauthier Continues Meeting Expectations
In the days after Cutter Gauthier was drafted, the expectations for what he could be was mildly contained. There were some distant thoughts about what he could be, and what he might amount to if his progression was absolutely wonderful.
It was a bit of a reach based purely on draft year production. Cutter didn’t put up numbers like a top 5 pick ought to. But his selection wasn’t about the numbers he was putting up. It was about the numbers he may put up when he improved his reads and made more efficient hockey decisions.
Gauthier never had bad hockey sense, or below average hockey sense. He just played an overly limited game where he sometimes trusted his linemates to do too much, and resigned himself to the role of “wait and shoot.”
His freshman season at Boston College was always going to be an interesting developmental experiment. Gauthier was entrusted to be the primary creator of offense for a weak and undermanned BC team. He’d have little in the way of support, and he’d be taking to a new role. He was expected to be “the guy.”
To me, this was the actual shift that Gauthier had to deal with when he transitioned to college. It had nothing to do with playing center as opposed to wing.
There was no Logan Cooley for him to say, “Go do some magic with the puck and find me in a shooting pocket.”
He had to create his own shooting opportunities. He had to create opportunities for his teammates. He had to be the primary creator for an NCAA team.
Impressively, he took to the role with nigh immediacy. 3 points in his first 4 games was considered a low point of his season.
He ultimately finished with 16 goals and 37 points in 32 games for that Boston College squad who was starving of offensive weapons besides him. That’s good production when you remove it from context. He can compare well to recent prospects like Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson in their D+1 seasons with those numbers.
That’s made more impressive by the differences in offensive support.
His 10 points in 7 games at the World Juniors was somehow simultaneously snakebitten and some of his most “passenger like” hockey. It felt like he could have went for 2 points a game if he was really at his best.
Then he plays against men at the World Championships, and he scores 9 points in 10 games including 7 goals. He set Team USA records with how many shots on goal he generated.
Expectations were already heightened before that tournament, but they hit a crescendo then.
Now, excellence wasn’t merely hoped for with Gauthier. It was expected. He was supposed to dominate.
Enter the World Juniors Summer Showcase. This is the first time playing his age group since he lit up that men’s tournament. He was expected to dominate.
After causing some minor headache by skipping on development camp to take a break from hockey, one might say he needed to dominate in order to make the hockey world forget about potential ELC ducking scandals and gossip about whether he was a teammate.
In two games so far at the World Juniors Summer Showcase, Cutter Gauthier has 3 goals and 1 assist.
What he’s done was best described by Steven Ellis in a piece with Daily Faceoff after his 2 goal game against Sweden.
“#19 Cutter Gauthier, C (Philadelphia Flyers): Expected to be the No. 1 center for USA, Gauthier scored twice and generally played like what we know he’s capable of with Boston College. He’s a pro-quality player putting a beating on his own age group. USA is going to be better because of it.”
It was put even more succinctly by prospect writer for the Athletic: Scott Wheeler.
I’ve long been a fan of Scott’s work and largely consider my biases for players to be remarkably similar to his. I say this, because I’ve been there when Scott had Cutter ranked 18th in the 2022 draft class. But it was Scott himself, through chronicling his experience with Cutter, who may have put his development into perspective best.
While ranking the 50 best prospects in the NHL, Scott had this to say about Cutter.
“Between a 10-point performance at the world juniors that somehow felt snakebitten, leading the Eagles in goals, assists and points as a freshman, and a darn good showing at men’s worlds, Gauthier had an excellent post-draft season that positions him nicely to go two-and-done at BC and play in the NHL as early as next spring.
The appeal of his game and makeup has always been obvious. Gauthier’s a net-focused shooter who has worked to turn himself into a net-driven one, playing a more intentional game that knows what it is. On the puck, he uses inside-body positioning to get to the middle off the cycle or the rush. Off of it, he finishes his checks and looks to help his line get it back. I wouldn’t say he’s a menacing power forward type, but he plays a very engaged, at-times imposing game. Gauthier’s also a strong skater and despite his heavy skew toward shooting and goals, I find he sees the ice well, hits seams when they’re there, and makes a lot of short plays as a passer off the wall (including off his backhand). His greatest strength is his catch-and-release. He can sling it. I do think he shoots a bit too much (a lot of his shots miss the net or are taken from low-percentage areas), but that’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
He’s got a readymade, projectable game and can put the puck in the net. I fully expect Gauthier to be an impactful NHL player and scorer, and he convinced me more and more as this season progressed that he might have star quality as well. I was a little less sure of that last outcome than most scouts during his draft year, but I’m right there with them now.“
To put that ranking into context, Scott had Zach Benson as the 12th best prospect in hockey. He had him ranked 6th in the 2023 Draft Class, and Shane Wright–2022 4th overall pick–was ranked 14th.
Cutter Gauthier has successfully raised expectations for himself. Generally, that’s a “be careful what you wish for” kind of proposition. You just might get it. And he got it. Those heightened expectations mean you have to meet them.
And Cutter just keeps meeting them.
Mandatory Credit: Sandro Halank