DALLAS – Julien Gauthier is having the time of his life.
The 22-year-old forward, acquired in a Feb. 18 trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, is beginning to make an impact for the Rangers in their desperate bid to make the playoffs. It’s all the former first-round pick has ever wanted, and he’s appreciative the Rangers are giving him the chance.
“That’s the dream of every hockey player,’’ Gauthier said at Tuesday’s optional morning skate, before the Rangers took on the Dallas Stars in the first game of their critical three-game road trip. “They never scratch me, and they give me opportunities. I play more and more every game, and it’s awesome.’’
The 6-4, 227-pound Gauthier, the 21st pick overall in the 2016 NHL draft by Carolina, had spent all season -- save for five games -- with Carolina’s Charlotte Checkers AHL affiliate, where he had scored 26 goals in 44 games. But after sending minor league prospect defenseman Joey Keane to the Hurricanes in exchange for him, the Rangers brought Gauthier directly to the NHL club. He started on the fourth line, seeing limited minutes in his first nine games, before coach David Quinn bumped him up to the third line for Saturday’s game against the Devils.
Gauthier set up the first goal of the game, when he took a pass from Adam Fox, drove around behind the net, and sent a pass from below the goal line to the slot to Filip Chytil, who fired it in for his 14th goal. It was Gauthier’s second assist in 10 games with the Rangers, and showed off his speed, playmaking vision and passing ability.
Those are the things that Quinn likes so much about Gauthier, and Gauthier said in the three weeks since he’s been with the team, he has gotten to know the coach, and has formed a relationship with him.
“I can feel he likes me, and that’s important,’’ said Gauthier, who was back on the fourth line at the start Tuesday night. “I think he’s a great guy, he’s a good coach. He’s given me opportunities and I appreciate that. I’m really grateful. Of course, I haven’t been here for a long time, but the more I talk to him, the better it gets. And he’s really there to show me what I can do to improve.’’
Gauthier, a member of the 2017 Canada team that earned a silver medal at the World Junior Championships, said he never got the opportunities with the Hurricanes that he is getting with the Rangers, though he didn’t want to talk about what went wrong in Carolina.
“It’s a business sometimes,’’ he said. “It is what it is . . . Sometimes people don’t like to play in the minors, but the minors were helpful for me. I was able to play some better defensive positioning in my zone and it really helped me. My coach this year [with Charlotte], Ryan Warsofsky, was really good to me. And the transition, right now, from the American Hockey League to the NHL is going well.’’
Quinn sent Gauthier out on one shift with the first line, with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. He sent him out on a shift with those two in the Montreal game Feb. 27, as well. He earned his first assist as a Ranger in that game, getting the second assist on a goal by Zibanejad that tied the game, 2-2 in the Rangers’ come-from-behind 5-2 win.
“It was fun,’’ Gauthier said of his chances with the top line. “They make a lot of plays, and they’re world-class players.’’