Julien Gauthier has the size and speed to consistently get behind the defense and create scoring chances. But finishing those opportunities and providing consistent offense was a problem in his first three NHL stops, including parts of four seasons with the Rangers.
Still, the Islanders strongly courted the 6-4, 226-pound Gauthier in the offseason, signing him to a two-year, $1.575 million one-way deal and showing they believe he can have a positive impact on their lineup.
“If a team shows you interest right away, it’s a good sign they want to bring you in, especially for more than a one-year deal,” Gauthier said on Saturday on Day 3 of the Islanders’ training camp at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. “That was attractive for me.”
Gauthier skated on a line with fellow speedster Pierre Engvall — expected to be a top-six wing — on Saturday. Gauthier’s clearest path to a full-time role likely would be on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s third line, though he said the Islanders have not discussed specific roles with him and “I don’t want to talk about it right now. We’ll see what happens.”
The Islanders have an opening on the third line after Zach Parise, 39, who had 21 goals and 13 assists in 82 games last season, opted not to attend training camp. He remains an unrestricted free agent as he ponders whether to continue his NHL career.
Gauthier split last season between the Rangers and Senators — plus four games with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford — recording nine goals and five assists in 57 NHL games. He has 14 goals and 18 assists in 153 NHL games after the Hurricanes selected him 21st overall in 2016.
The righthanded shooter skated mainly in a fourth-line role during his time with the Rangers.
“The Rangers are such a stacked team with a lot of guys that are locked for many, many, many years,” Gauthier said. “Which is fine. But it’s hard to get any role or opportunity on a team like that. I appreciated my time with them. It was fun to play on the big club with them. I’m grateful for that. But I think it was a better opportunity somewhere [else].”
Gauthier’s speed has stood out to coach Lane Lambert, who also noted that Gauthier has a “heavy shot.”
“He really can shoot the puck,” Lambert said. “He’s a big guy and he can skate. It just adds to our team speed.”
Gauthier understands his physical attributes very well. And he understands how he must consistently use them.
“Every night, going to the net,” he said. “Speed. Taking defensemen wide. Not a lot of guys that are this big can skate like that. It’s a thing you want to do every night. Shooting the puck. But keep modeling your 200-foot game to become a better overall player.”