The Toronto Maple Leafs made a big impression with their first-round selection at this year’s NHL Draft. And in his first tournament bearing the blue and white, Frederik Gauthier is hoping to make a big impression on his new employers.
But that’s not to say those big first steps weren’t a little tentative.
“For sure, at the beginning, it was a little odd,” Gauthier said. “Those first few shifts, especially. But in general, as the game went on, things got more comfortable.
“It’s not really what I expected. I really didn’t know what to expect out there.”
Drafted 21st overall in this past June’s draft, Gauthier comes highly touted, but tempered with an understanding that it’s going to take time for the young forward to work his way to the NHL. He’s a project — a big project.
As in 6’5”, 214 pounds big. But as one of the biggest guys on the ice, no matter where he plays, Gauthier said he noticed a difference in quality of play from the junior ranks.
“It’s a whole new level,” he said. “The guys out there are just so much bigger, so much faster, and so much better.”
Toronto Marlies’ head coach Steve Spott, who is serving as the head coach of the Leafs’ rookie camp squad, said he’s been impressed with Gauthier’s development, especially considering how far he’s come in such a short period of time.
“It’s his first pro camp,” Spott explained. “This boy was only playing midget hockey two years ago. When you think about the level that he’s come to…”
“He’s extremely intelligent on the ice; positionally he’s always in the right place. As a young player, we’ll give him some more offensive opportunities to play [on Saturday].”
Gauthier was on the ice for about 16 shifts Friday night, including killing a penalty. He took a couple of key, defensive-zone faceoffs late in the game. Known for his defensive prowess, Gauthier acquitted himself nicely. And Spott feels he’s got all the tools — and potential — to be a big part of the Leafs’ future, both literally and figuratively, for years to come.
“He’s got a real good base coming in here and I think he’s going to be a real good prospect for Toronto,” Spott said. “Big centremen like that are hard to find. Freddy gives us that kind of player for years to come and I think he’s just going to get better and better.”
One knock against Gauthier has been his skating. Even during the early stages of the rookie tournament, you can see that he’s not going to win too many foot races. However, he’s taken strides to improve that aspect of the game.
Gauthier spent some of this summer working on his skating with Canadian figure-skating icon Barb Underhill, who was hired in 2012 by the Leafs as a consultant. The 1984 world champion has plenty of experience, working with the Guelph Storm (a team of which her husband is a part-owner) since 2007, and consulting with other NHL franchises including the Anaheim Ducks, the New York Rangers, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I’ve taken a couple of courses with her,” Gauthier said. “She’s helped a lot — my skating is much more straight, my speed has improved. I’m more confident with my speed and agility.
“I found that it helped me. I’m much more confident on my skates.”
As a young player in his first pro camp, Gauthier will find his way back to the junior ranks. He’s enjoying the experience so far and said he is keeping an open mind about his options.
“I’m going to put out my best effort,” he said. “Nobody knows how camp is going to go — whatever happens will happen and I’m going to play my role.”