The Toronto Maple Leafs season may be over, but their work developing their top prospects continues.
And that includes 2013 first-rounder Frederik Gauthier, who will get his first taste of pro hockey this week in the American Hockey League playoffs.
With his season in the Quebec junior league with Rimouski over, Gauthier signed what’s known as an amateur tryout contract on Monday morning with the Toronto Marlies, who open their postseason schedule in Milwaukee on Friday.
Morgan Rielly did something similar last year, although because his Moose Jaw team missed the playoffs, he was able to play 14 regular season and eight playoff games with the Marlies.
That gave him some solid experience when he came to Leafs camp last fall, where as a 19-year-old, his only options were to play in the NHL or to go back to junior.
That’ll be the situation facing Gauthier next year, although given he’s a later pick (21st) than Rielly, it’s less likely he’ll be ready to make that jump.
Players typically can play 25 AHL games (and only one in the NHL) on an ATO deal, and it maintains their eligibility to play junior the following season. They usually only get a per diem as compensation.
There’s already been some talk in this market that the youngster could fill the hole potentially left in the lineup if Dave Bolland doesn’t re-sign, but that’s a bit premature. Few late first round centres step into the NHL as teenagers, and Gauthier’s hardly dominated junior to the point where it looks like that’s a realistic possibility.
His offensive totals in his second junior season were similar to what he produced as a rookie (52 points in 54 games), and he was a very quiet part of Canada’s world junior team in Malmo, Sweden.
It’s expected Gauthier will turn into more of a defensive centre eventually.
He’s probably a couple years away from making an impact with the Leafs, although this audition with the Marlies will give him a chance to prove otherwise. Toronto had some centre depth issues earlier in the year when Trevor Smith and Peter Holland were called up, although with both down for the playoffs, playing time may be hard to come by.
Still, it’s better experience than Gauthier was going to get otherwise.