CHICAGO — It’s an old belief in hockey that, as long as you’re getting chances, everything is all right.
And Julien Gauthier is getting lots of chances.
Entering Tuesday’s game in Chicago, the 6-4, 227-pound winger actually led the Rangers in high-danger scoring chances in five-on-five situations, according to Natural Stat Trick. He had 27 of those, five more than the Rangers’ leading goal scorer, Chris Kreider. The number is even more impressive considering that Gauthier had been in and out of the lineup in the first month of the season, and had played in only 14 of the Rangers’ 23 games before Tuesday.
The only problem with Gauthier creating all those chances, though, is that he isn’t finishing them. Entering Tuesday, he had just one goal this season, on 30 shots.
But neither he nor Rangers coach Gerard Gallant seem overly concerned with his poor finishing. Instead, they seem more encouraged by the number of chances the 24-year-old is creating.
"If you don't get any chances, you should be worried, because you're not creating anything,’’ Gauthier said after Tuesday’s morning skate. "You're not a threat to the other team, and you're not generating anything, so [opposing] teams don't respect you... it's also not all about scoring goals, because if you create chances and momentum for your team, the other lines start to go in and they get momentum and they score. So, it's a team thing.’’
"He's played some real good games now, and he knows he's an NHL player,’’ Gallant said. "So, some of it's in your mind; some of it's a young player getting prepared to take that next step. And I think he's done that.’’
Gauthier agreed with Gallant that his confidence is higher now that he knows he is going to be in the lineup every night. He wasn’t so confident when he was in and out of the lineup under previous coach David Quinn.
"It's like anybody that has a job that's not sure to be there every day,’’ Gauthier said. "It's something that, for sure, plays in your head, no matter what you do. But I'd say that, now, feeling more part of the team and being regular in the lineup, and knowing that you're playing well, it's a great feeling. Knowing that if you make a mistake, you’re not out [of the lineup] right away. [Gallant] talks to you, he makes sure you understand. And you go back there, you don't do it again. It's like a mutual trust, I'd say.’’
Gauthier was a prolific scorer at the junior level, and was a first round pick in the NHL draft in 2016 by the Carolina Hurricanes, after scoring 41 goals for Val D’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in his draft year, and made the Canadian World Junior team as a young 18-year-old. The following season he scored five goals in seven games for Canada to help them win a silver medal at the World Juniors, and then he had 11 goals in 16 playoff games for Saint John, as they won the QMJHL championship.
He had 69 goals in 184 games in two-and-a-half seasons with Carolina’s AHL team in Charlotte, before Carolina traded him to the Rangers in February of 2020. He has yet to develop a scoring touch in the NHL, though. In 61 career NHL games (five with Carolina and 56 with the Rangers), he’s scored three goals with 12 assists.
But Gallant believes if Gauthier keeps playing the way he is playing now, the goals will start coming, eventually.
"It's tough to score goals in NHL, but they'll start going in for him,’’ the coach said. "He's come a long way in the last month, so they'll go in. Keep getting the chances; they'll go in.’’