Julien Gauthier of the Rangers shoots the puck during the second...

Julien Gauthier of the Rangers shoots the puck during the second period against the Islanders at UBS Arena on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

TEMPE, Ariz. – In his time with the Rangers, Julien Gauthier has had problems finishing when he gets in front of the net. In 49 games last season, the 6-4, 224-pound forward created numerous scoring chances for himself, but managed only three goals. 

On Saturday, though, when Dallas Stars goaltender Scott Wedgewood gambled that he could beat the speedy Gauthier to a loose puck in the third period of a one-goal game in Dallas, Gauthier was confident he’d finish that one.

“I'm pretty sure I had him,’’ Gauthier said with a smile when asked about the play after the Rangers’ 6-3 win. “I was, like, pretty much, full speed, and it was like it might be tough timing for him. So it was pretty (likely) it was going to go in.’’

Gauthier won the race, skated around Wedgewood, and shot the puck into the vacated net to turn a 4-3 Rangers lead into 5-3, just 19 seconds after Zac Jones’ goal had broken a 3-3 tie.

The goal was a nice reward for Gauthier, who had helped set up Jones’ goal, and who overall had played a strong game in his second outing since getting called up from AHL Hartford on Wednesday. Gauthier had been called up to play Wednesday’s game against the Islanders because Vitali Kravtsov was unavailable that night due to an upper-body injury. 

Gauthier played well enough against the Islanders that coach Gerard Gallant opted to play him again Saturday in Dallas. And when Kravtsov suffered what looked like a head injury in the game, that opened the door for Gauthier to hold his place in the lineup Sunday against Arizona.

The Rangers made their inaugural visit to the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, on the campus of Arizona State University, to face the Coyotes in the finale of their two-game road trip. If Kravtsov is out for an extended period, as seems likely, then Gauthier could be sticking around a while.

Gauthier, 25, played well in the preseason for the Rangers, but he was assigned to Hartford, in part because the Rangers were committed to keeping Kravtsov, their first of three first-round picks in the 2018 NHL draft. 

A year ago, Gauthier outplayed Kravtsov in the preseason and it was Kravtsov who got sent down, which led to Kravtsov walking out and going back home to Russia. After Kravtsov and the Rangers patched things up, and Kravtsov re-signed with the club over the summer, it was almost a certainty he would make the team this year. That likely meant Gauthier, who also re-signed over the summer, and who himself is a former first round pick (2016, by Carolina) was going to be the one starting the season in Hartford.

In four games with Hartford, Gauthier scored two goals, and when the Rangers needed a stand-in for Kravtsov, they brought him up. 

“It's obviously … never a pleasant thing to be sent down,’’ he said. “But you have two choices: You can either pout, and not work, or you can work hard and try to get back up. And that's what happened.’’

The Rangers have always liked Gauthier’s combination of size and speed, but his inability to finish last season made it hard to trust him when they were picking the team this year. Getting a goal and an assist Saturday may help with that.

“ ’Goats’ is ‘Goats,’ ’’ Gallant said when asked if Gauthier had improved during his stint in the minor leagues. “He's fast. And you know what, the good thing is, he got an opportunity to come back up, and so far, he's taken full advantage of it.

“We like the player,’’ Gallant said. “You're only allowed to keep so many, and we wanted to try something different. And right now, he's back up and he's playing real well.’’

More Rangers