The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up size and depth in Sunday’s NHL draft in the former of Rimouski centre Frederik Gauthier.
But they will likely have to wait for their 21st overall pick to make his presence felt in the NHL.
“He’s big,” Toronto GM Dave Nonis said when asked about his first-round pick. “He’s a big man.”
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, the 18-year-old from Laval, Que., is a load.
He’s billed as a strong two-way player who led first-year Quebec Major Junior Hockey League players in faceoff percentage. He ranked eighth among North American skaters, according to NHL Central Scouting.
“I’ve never seen a kid get back and play defence like he does in 20 years,” said Chris Bordeleau of NHL Central Scouting. “In his own end, he’s always around the puck. A kid that can play defence like he does at his age, with that kind of maturity, is very rare.”
Gauthier had 22 goals and 28 assists in his first season with the Oceanic, to rank fourth among rookies.
He also helped Canada earn a gold medal at the 2013 Under-18 World Championship in Russia with a goal and three assists in seven games.
Nonis said the Leafs had four or five players in mind with their first pick and had looked into moving up. But they abandoned the effort after deducing that Gauthier would still be there when their turn came around.
“He fills a need long-term for us,” said Nonis. “I don’t expect that we’ll see him shortly but he’s come a long way in a short amount of time. He was playing midget hockey not too long ago.”
Gauthier will come to rookie camp with the Leafs.
“Someone asked me earlier how long is it going to take for him. It’s going to take as long as it takes,” said Nonis. “There’s not going to be any rushing of any of these players. We want to do a better job of being as deep as we can be so we can keep the players where they should be playing until they’re developed and ready to come and play for us.”
Gauthier, who says he models his game after Jordan Staal, said he was surprised and excited to be taken by Toronto. He had spoken to the team at the recent NHL Combine.
“I’ll try and make the NHL next year for sure,” he said. “And if I don’t, I’ll go back to Rimouski and play junior and continue at school.”
Toronto chose another centre, Niagara’s Carter Verhaege, in the third round. Swiss winger Fabrice Herzog came in the fourth round and goalie Antoine Bibeau of the P.E.I. Rockets, now known as the Charlottetown Islanders, was chosen in the sixth round.
The Leafs wrapped up the draft in the seventh round with Sweden’s Andreas Johnson.
Nonis said he looked at moving higher in the draft but the price was too steep. “The assets to move up didn’t make any sense.”Report Typo/Error