When the Rangers traded Pavel Buchnevich, they were looking to bolster the bottom six while opening up space in the top six for the kids. In doing so, they targeted Sammy Blais, a bottom six right winger who was used in a scoring role by St. Louis last season. The move did what they wanted, but also added a few additional questions. Specifically, they didn’t open another RW spot. With Blais and Ryan Reaves on board, where does Julien Gauthier fit for the Rangers this season?
The short answer is that there is currently no fit for him. It looks like the Rangers will be trotting out Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and one of Barclay Goodrow or Chris Kreider on the off-wing in their top nine. That leaves Blais, Reaves, and Gauthier vying for the final RW spot on the fourth line. With Blais and Reaves already penciled in for specific roles, where does that leave Gauthier?
If the Rangers are going to run some forwards on their off-wing, then that does leave the possibility for Gauthier or Blais to be run as the 4LW in specific situations. That still wouldn’t necessarily open up a spot for him in the lineup, but would move him up the depth chart to 13/14F instead of the current 14/15F. This doesn’t include the possibility that Dryden Hunt and/or Morgan Barron –or someone else in Hartford– outplays him at camp.
Much like with Zac Jones, it looks like the Rangers had plans to alleviate some of these logjams with a trade. Gauthier likely doesn’t hold much value on his own. He could be used as a sweetener in some deals though. Or, if the Rangers do need to include Vitali Kravtsov –for Eichel– then he could be a fill-in bottom six winger.
The trade ship seems to have sailed for now. There’s a chance the Rangers pivot to Tomas Hertl, but that’s unlikely. It seems the goal was Eichel or bust, and still is. We may see a trade early in the season, once his surgery is done. But until then, Gauthier is likely slotted for the press box. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be a fit for Julien Gauthier in the Rangers lineup, when fully healthy. That could change with one phone call, of course.