When it comes to building a hockey team, NHL clubs often put a premium on size and skill down the middle.
Because of that premium, it comes as no surprise that Rimouski Oceanic center Frederik Gauthier has caught the eye of many scouts this season. The product of Mascouche, PQ has a nice smooth skating stride to go along with size. A lot of it.
He won’t turn 18-years-old until April 26th, but already stands an imposing six-foot-five, 219 pounds.
His size lends to a multi-dimensional game.
A top rookie in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season, it’s hard to imagine he is just a year removed from playing Major Midget AAA with Collège Esther-Blondin Phénix. He finished his first year of Major Junior fourth on his team in scoring and amongst fellow QMJHL rookies in the regular season by compiling 22 goals, 60 points and a plus-22 rating in 62 games.
“He’s an all round player,” coach Serge Beausoleil said. “We appreciate having him on our team very much, especially because he one of our key players at 17-years-old.”
“His reading of the game is (what scouts like). He’s always well positioned that is one of his biggest strengths.”
As good of a season as it has been for Gauthier, the year hasn’t gone flawlessly. In early November, he took a shot in the mouth playing against the Quebec Remparts and fractured his jaw. Fortunately for him was able to return to the lineup two weeks later. Surgery was successful as he was able to start eating the day after and was informed by his doctor that he couldn’t do any more damage by playing.
The injury didn’t slow his production. Upon his return to the lineup, Gauthier was held pointless his first two games back then went on a tear scoring by picking up 32 points in his next 24 games, a run that carried into his first game in February.
Like many rookies, Gauthier hit a wall soon after, finishing with just eight points in his final 18 games.
“It’s maybe a little bit of fatigue,” Beausoleil said. ” He was a little bit tired at the end. It’s a long season in the Q and he has to learn to manage it.”
It’s all part of the learning experience that young players go through. The QMJHL has a long growling schedule with lots of travel and it can be taxing for a kid that is trying to adjust from playing minor hockey.
Gauthier does have some experience to lean on, however.
Playing Quebec Midget AAA hockey and being named league MVP, leading his team to within a goal of a national championship before losing in double overtime, playing up a level is a jump. However, the experience of playing in big games carries over.
“The experience is always going to be with you,” Gauthier said. “I’ve taken the experience with me into this year. When you play in the final you learn about [what it takes to win big games].”
Gauthier is not alone when it comes to inexperience in at this level. Rimouski’s playoff roster consists of 11 players born in 1995 and one 1996. To put that into perspective, nearly half of the Oceanic’s 23 players this post-season are young enough to be in high school.
It’s one of the reasons his coach thinks he can use a little more time in junior before making the leap to the pro ranks.
“He’s too young,” Beausoleil admitted. “He’s got a lot of room to improve but he’s close that is for sure.”
Beausoleil there are a couple of areas of his game in particular Beausoleil thinks he can upgrade with more time and experience in the league.
“I’d like to see him finish his checks a little more and I’d like to see him use his shot,” he said. “He’s got a tremendous shot and he could use it a little more often.”
Gauthier agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“I know I have to shoot more,” he divulged. “I have to take some opportunity to shoot the puck at the net and tuck in some more scoring chances.”
One of the reasons he doesn’t shoot a little more often is skating with such talented linemates. He’s playing alongside 19-year-old Peter Trainor, one of only four players to eclipse 100 points in the regular season. Scott Oke, another 19-year-old, enjoyed a breakout season with 71 points skating with Gauthier.
“We know where each other are on the ice,” Gauthier said. “Trainor is one of the best players in the league and he’s helped me a lot during the season. Scott too, he works hard and I play well with him.”
The Oceanic are in a hole down 3-2 to the Gatineau Olympiques in their first round playoff series. If they are going to get back into it Gauthier’s line will be one of the players they need to step up.
“Now we are in the playoffs, it’s not like the regular season,” Gauthier said. “You have to keep giving you all and making sacrifices.”
He’s learning fast and Rimouski needs him along with his other teammates to do just that.
The Oceanic are a team that has ten 1995 born players on their playoff roster and a 1996. Even if the spring of 2013 doesn’t play out the way, Gauthier and company want it to they have a young core that is only going to get better, especially with him as one of their leaders.