Julien Gauthier collision Blais

When preseason began, Julien Gauthier was an after thought. Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Ryan Reaves/Dryden Hunt were the right wings to focus on. But Gauthier has had a fire under him this preseason, and has forced the Rangers into a difficult decision. Initially penciled in as the 13 or 14F, Julien Gauthier has made a case for the 4RW spot on the opening night roster, potentially more.

Gauthier was likely never going to be sent to the AHL, his skill set and size would get snatched up instantly on waivers. Thus, he was likely going to be fighting for a spot with Reaves and Hunt. Given Reaves’ injury and uncertainty, even if the outlook is initially positive, Gauthier may get game time sooner than expected. He has certainly outplayed both on the ice in the preseason. The question is whether he will do so in the regular season as well.

Preseason stats are great

Through his four preseason games, Gauthier has elevated his game above the other borderline players. A grain of salt is required, since it is 1) the preseason, and 2) only four games. That said, the game logs are pretty solid. Gauthier had one bad game against Boston on 10/2, where he put up a 40% CF and a 45% xGF. Aside from that game, the other three in which he’s played he’s been above 55% xGF in all three, and over 58% CF in two.

He’s visually more engaged as well. We hear his name much more often on the broadcast, usually preceded by a “drive to the net” or a “shot by” or a “chance by.” This is everything you want to hear from a kid who is looking to make the next step.

Given how his possession stats look, they suggest better defensive play. A new coach and more attention to aggressiveness and detail will help him a lot as well. But the start of the season should be a better indicator of his progress.

There’s a lot of hockey left to be played, but seeing Gauthier seemingly take the next step forward is a big win for the Rangers.