BUFFALO, N.Y. — One of the first things anyone notices watching Julien Gauthier is his size – the 18-year-old is already listed at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds. The physical strength comes from growing up in the gym working alongside his father, who was a bodybuilder.
“We don't train to be a bodybuilder, we train to be like good hockey players: strength and power,” Gauthier said earlier this month at the NHL Scouting Combine. “We did a couple of times the [combine] tests before at home, but nothing special. We do our routine.
“When you're nine, it's pretty tough to work out, you've got friends that want to go out. I was staying at the gym at my home and I think I don't regret it today. It was a good advantage for me.”
If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Gauthier’s uncle is ex-NHL defenseman Denis Gauthier, who spent parts of two seasons in the Flyers' organization.
Denis Gauthier, a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames (20th overall in 1995), spent parts of 10 seasons in the NHL, registering 77 points and 748 penalty minutes in 554 games.
These days Gauthier, an analyst with the Canadian French sports television network, RDS, offers up advice to his nephew on how to prepare away from the rink.
“My [advice] is all about how to act, how to behave, how to be a real pro, how to manage your preparation, your off-ice lifestyle, how to manage your sudden celebrity – all the stuff that comes around playing at the pro level,” Gauthier said. “This is something that I'm more than willing to hammer the nail a little more on.
“Those are the things, for me, I think, to learn and adapt to when you're a young kid turning pro or [at the] NHL level. All of a sudden you've got a change of everything — all the money, the fame and all the stuff that comes around that not everybody is prepared the same way to handle it.”
On the ice, Julien Gauthier’s size and strength helped him earn a spot on Team Canada’s 2016 world junior roster, where he was the lone draft-eligible player. Gauthier registered two assists over five games, as the Canadians finished sixth at the Under-20 tournament.
The 18-year-old had an inconsistent 2015-16 season, according to scouts. He registered 41 goals and 16 assists in 54 games with the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Gauthier added two goals and three assists in six playoff games, as the Foreurs were upset by Blainville-Boisbriand in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs.
He went from fourth amongst North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings to 12th in the final rankings.
“He had a very disappointing playoffs. He was expected to be a leader, especially since he's kind of a late birth date (Oct. 15), so we kind of expected him to take a leadership role,” Dennis MacInnis, ISS Hockey scouting director, said. “They got upset in the playoffs and it doesn't all fall on him of course, but it was a bit of a disappointment.
“He's so strong in his legs, he's a powerful skater, he's got a good stride and speed for his size. His consistency is something he really needs to work on; it's up and down from shift to shift, game to game.”
Gauthier is well aware of how far he’s fallen since November and agreed, his first half, where he surprisingly made Team Canada’s lineup, may have had scouts watching him more critically.
“I can't control anything, so I'm just focused on my training and be ready for which team is going to draft me,” he said. “Of course [scouts were paying more attention]. I was the youngest guy there for Team Canada, so all the attention was focused on me as the only draft-eligible player there. All the media and teams were watching me, of course.
“It's part of the game. You just need to be better and improve things you're maybe weaker at, that's all right.”
According to Denis Gauthier, Julien’s late birth date and three years of junior prior to being drafted has left him overscouted for next weekend’s draft.
“Instead of finding qualities in him, they start seeing things that he needs to improve,” Denis Gauthier said. “Listen, for me, he's going to play. He's a sure-shot to play, he's a low-risk draft pick, let's put it that way. Because of his package and his size and strength, he's going to be a 10-, 12-year, at least, NHL guy. Whoever picks him, I think he's going to play sooner rather than later because of all that. I think he's a very low-risk pick in the mid-first round.”
If the Flyers were to select Gauthier with the 18th selection, Denis says his size will lend itself way to the Philly brand of hockey.
“He's a big, physical guy. He's not the guy that'll drop the gloves very often,” Denis Gauthier said. “He's more of a power forward that's got some skill and great shot and a flare for the net offensively — he'll impose himself on opposing defensemen, but he's not the guy that'll drop the gloves just to please the crowd or just to put on a show.”
Described as a powerful skater, Gauthier has great strides and impressive acceleration in his skating. Additionally, he has a ton of offensive upside with natural scoring abilities.
ISS Hockey used Winnipeg Jets forward Drew Stafford as an NHL comparable in its NHL Draft Guide, while Gauthier says he tries to model his game after New York Rangers forward Rick Nash.
Despite the criticisms of his game this season, Gauthier is confident he can compete at the NHL level next season.
“There's a big question of timing, but physically, I'll be ready,” he said.