Keith Primeau was one of the greatest leaders the NHL has ever seen. He shined for years with the Philadelphia Flyers, while being regarded as one of the most dominant two-way centers in the league. His leadership and post as the commander of the Flyers epitomized the hard-nosed, blue-collar spirit that Philly holds dear.
Big-bodied centers with good hands and a strong hockey I.Q. are not easy to find. That’s why there is only one Keith Primeau. But a young, 6’5” 210-pound center from the province of Quebec may be developing into a Primeau-eque mold.
Frederik Gauthier hails from the southwest part of Quebec in Laval, sitting just north of Montreal. Laval has produced some stellar NHL players before including Martin St. Louis, Donald Audette, Pascal Dupuis, and Jose Theodore. Most notably, Mario Lemieux played his junior hockey with the Laval Voisins finishing his QMJHL career with 562 points in 200 games over three seasons. In his final year in Laval Super Mario broke the league record for points in a season with 282 in 70 games.
Gauthier played two years of midget AAA hockey for the College Esther-Blondin Phenix. Large players tend to develop slower as they get used to playing in their frames. Although his stat line wasn’t overly impressive after his first year with the Phenix, he showed enough potential to be selected in the third round (40th overall) by the Rimouski Oceanic in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft.
The biggest knock on young talents with large frames is that they take time to develop their skating ability and coordination. The French-speaking center is an exception. He has outstanding skating ability for his size and the hands to boot. Couple his speed and agility with his long reach and Gauthier has the makings of a star two-way forward. He showed off those talents in his second season with College Esther-Blondin, where he finished with a team-leading 26 goals and 25 assists in 39 games. Gauthier continued to display his competitive nature with 13 goals and 11 assists in 13 playoff games en route to the playoff championship. The clutch power forward added two goals and nine assists in seven games as the Phenix reached the gold medal game of the Telus Cup.
This season Gauthier continued to exhibit his maturation with Rimouski. Unlike the prospect I profiled last week, Anthony Mantha, Gauthier is not a pure scoring threat. He has a decent shot with the occasional laser if he has the time and momentum to snap it off quickly. But, his game is much more balanced and focused on distributing the puck rather than possessing it. The Oceanic center finished this season without a single hat trick, yet he did have two three-assist games. That’s not to say the big playmaker can’t rack up the points. He scored 22 goals with 38 assists in 62 regular season games. More impressive was his plus-22 rating, which was good for second on his team and fifth among rookies in the QMJHL.
The plus/minus rating is a true testament to Gauthier’s emphasis on the defensive aspect of the game. Chris Bordeleau of NHL Central Scouting cannot match Gauthier to any current or former NHLer because of the youngster’s defensive discipline and awareness. It is known that Gauthier’s hockey smarts are superb and he can play in all three zones without a worry. His maturity and intelligence is off the charts for a player his age. Throw in his monstrous build and steady skating ability and you can see why he is a highly coveted prospect for the upcoming 2013 NHL Draft.
As if it could get any better with this kid, he led all QMJHL rookies with 682 faceoff wins (285 more than the next guy). Faceoffs are an important aspect of his game and it shows in his ability to handle the workload in the dots. Gauthier was seventh in the QMJHL among all players in faceoffs taken; displaying the confidence his coach has in him in clutch situations.
Gauthier was ranked seventh amongst North American skaters in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, and finished the year ranked eighth in the CSS final rankings. He is an impressive specimen on the ice with all the tools necessary to become a star in the NHL. Like most large prospects Gauthier needs to utilize his size more in battles and one-on-one situations along the boards. But, there is no denying his two-way smarts and respect for playing in his own zone.
With his talents and sky-high ceiling Gauthier will most likely be selected in the top 15 picks of the 2013 NHL Draft. In my initial mock draft I predicted Gauthier would land in the desert 12th overall with the Phoenix Coyotes. Tom Zulewski had Gauthier going to the Dallas Stars with the 10th pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. If Gauthier is still around when the Flyers pick 11th overall, they would be wise to take a long look at the French-Canadian talent.
He could be the best player to come out of Rimouski since Sidney Crosby.