In the second period of Monday’s overtime loss to the Flyers, Julien Gauthier gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead with a nifty backhander following a forceful drive to the net. Less than three minutes later, however, the 23-year-old winger was called for high sticking, and the subsequent power play allowed Philadelphia to tie the game heading into the final 20 minutes.
After the Rangers regained the lead early in the third, Gauthier committed another high-sticking penalty for his third trip of the night to the box. That opened the door for the Flyers to send the game into overtime and ultimately steal two points from the Rangers.
Gauthier’s rocky performance Monday was a microcosm of his 37-game NHL career. There have been flashes of what the 6-foot-4, 227-pounder is capable of, while other instances have left him as a healthy scratch seven times this season.
He has gone from being a noted goal scorer at the junior and AHL levels to being an inconsistent bottom-six skater in the NHL, which isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence during a player’s transition from the minors.
Gauthier brings an aggressiveness to the Rangers’ offense, but it’s often outshined by careless mistakes and a clear unfamiliarity with the NHL game. He’s one of the few Rangers who can drive to the net using his large frame and ability to maintain puck possession.
But Gauthier is still learning how to be reliable on both ends of the ice. And that isn’t going to improve unless he gets the reps he needs.
“Being a goal scorer is also like you get a goal-scoring role,” Gauthier said following practice Tuesday as the Rangers prepared for Wednesday’s rematch with the Flyers at the Garden. “Right now, [I have] a different role, I’m adding something to my game. I’m playing more physical, being better defensively, like a 200-foot game. Trying to really work on my overall game, but to score goals you need to play a lot of minutes, and right now this is not my role.
“I’m just trying to focus on playing the right way and doing the right things, and things are eventually going to come. I’ve always been a scorer my whole life. When I see a hole in the net or an opportunity to go on offense, I’m always for it.”
Head coach David Quinn said he likes the direction Gauthier is headed but that the Quebec native still needs to find a balance of “doing the things he’s done well with minimizing the mistakes.” As Gauthier continues to learn the NHL game, Quinn believes he has a bright future.
Following a five-game stretch at the end of January in which he was scratched, Gauthier’s time in street clothes diminished. He was left out of the lineup on Feb. 18 then played 10 straight games until he was scratched again for Artemi Panarin’s return to the lineup Saturday in Boston.
“It’s not easy, it’s not fun to have [the possibility of being scratched] in the back of your head,” Gauthier said. “For sure you think about it because it happened a couple of times. It’s unfortunately out of my control. My only responsibility is to come ready every day at the rink to play, and hopefully I’ll be a regular soon.”