SEATTLE – The Rangers had a decision to make Thursday regarding their roster. And they made it. Julien Gauthier will be part of it going forward.
When coach Gerard Gallant opted to use the same lineup Thursday against the Seattle Kraken that he did in the last game against Arizona, that meant Gauthier would play in his 10th game of the season. That is significant because if the Rangers decide later in the season to send Gauthier to the minors, they will have to expose him to waivers. And the way Gauthier has played since being recalled from AHL Hartford Oct. 26, there’s almost no way he would get through waivers.
“What ‘Goat’ does is he brings a lot of speed, and goes hard to the net, and he creates those scoring chances,’’ Gallant said of Gauthier after Wednesday’s practice. “So, you know, just keep doing what he's doing. (He’s) a guy that's big and strong, and you want him to make sure he's bumping some guys, and finishing guys on the forecheck.’’
So Gauthier, the speedy, 6-4, 224-pound winger, is officially a part of the roster for the rest of the season. And that means if the Rangers plan on reducing their roster from the current 23-man maximum in order to save salary cap space and give them flexibility at the trade deadline, it won’t be him going down to the minors.
Instead, if the Rangers want to delete a forward from the roster, it now likely will be one of two veterans, either 35-year-old Ryan Reaves, the team’s enforcer and a popular locker room presence, or 31-year-old Ryan Carpenter, the fourth-line center and penalty killer.
“Obviously, I'm in a good spot right now, but I’ve just got to keep it going,’’ Gauthier said Wednesday. “It's day by day, and you’ve just got to keep it rolling every single day and try to gain the coach's trust.’’
The Quebec native was a goal-scorer in his junior days, getting 38 in 62 games as a 17-year-old with Val d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and then 41 in 54 games in his draft year. That prompted the Carolina Hurricanes to take him in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft. He had five goals in seven games for Canada in the 2017 World Junior Championships, but he has never been able to replicate that kind of performance in the NHL.
The Rangers acquired him in February 2020, in a trade for minor league defenseman Joey Keane. But Gauthier has failed to produce the kind of numbers the Rangers would have hoped for. Last season, he beat out Vitali Kravtsov for a roster spot out of training camp, but scored just three goals in 49 games. He had a strong training camp again this year, but the Rangers sent him down this time and kept Kravtsov. But when Kravtsov suffered an upper-body injury in a game against Colorado on Oct. 25, Gauthier was called up the next day.
And he’s played well. In his nine games before Thursday night, Gauthier two goals and an assist, and has added some welcome speed to the bottom-six forward group. And he said he’s working on becoming a more complete player. That includes being more physical, something he’s not necessarily had to be in his younger days.
“You have to (be more physical),’’ he said. “Absolutely, you have to. The more complete you can be, the better you are. And you know, that's better. That's what I've been trying to work on in the past couple years. And you know, step-by-step it’s going well.’’
Kravtsov, who missed the last two games because of an infected tooth that required surgery, missed a third straight game. The other two scratches were Reaves, who sat out a second straight game and six of the last seven, and D Zac Jones, who has now sat out four straight. Libor Hajek, competing with Jones for the sixth D spot, played his sixth straight game. “That competition (between Hajek and Jones) is going on all year long, and we like both of them,’’ Gallant said . . . Igor Shesterkin will start Thursday night in Seattle. He is 8-2-2 with a .915 save percentage.