2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Ethan Gauthier is the top QMJHL prospect

One of Joshua Roy's best linemates in Junior headlines the QMJHL crop for the 2023 NHL Draft.

2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Ethan Gauthier is the top QMJHL prospect
Vincent Levesque Rousseau

The crop of QMJHL players eligible for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft is, to put it lightly, lacking in terms of top-end talent. Many see this as an indictment of the league itself, and while this may be an oversimplistic way to look at the strength of the league, there is no denying that it is an underwhelming crop from the Q this year.

At the top of the list lies Ethan Gauthier, the only one of the group currently projected to be a first-round pick.

Birthplace: Phoenix, Arizona
Date of birth: January 26, 2005
Shoots: Right
Position: Right Wing
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)

Son of former NHLer turned RDS commentator Denis Gauthier, Ethan was born in Arizona while his father was playing for the Coyotes, but is a product of the Quebec minor hockey system. Selected first overall by the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the 2021 QMJHL draft, he has been developing there alongside Habs prospect Joshua Roy for the last two seasons.

He put together a solid performance at the last U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup for Canada. Seven points in five games tied him for second in team scoring with Zach Benson, just behind Calum Ritchie and Braeden Yager, which are three names expected to be called ahead of Gauthier's on day one of the draft.

He parlayed that U18 success into a solid sophomore season in the QMJHL. Putting together his first point-per-game campaign in 2022-23, he added another 11 points in as many playoff games before Sherbrooke fell to the Halifax Mooseheads in the semi-finals.  The offensive totals don't exactly jump off the page, but the interest in Gauthier from NHL teams will lie more in how he was able to put up his numbers, not the volume.

He is not a player that will wow you with incredible puck handling, passing, or an elite shot. It isn't that he's bad at these things, he's simply average, and this can be limiting in terms of generating offensive opportunities. But the average puck skills and shot don't hurt him thanks to his above average skating, and smart positioning.

How he generates offence starts with his skating, which is one of his most impressive tools. He has solid mechanics, and mixes in quick crossovers to help him build speed and get around defenders, often creating odd-man rushes or opportunities for himself. Take a look at this goal against Halifax in the playoffs:

He is very effective in transition, which at times simplifies his offensive opportunities – blowing past defenders, and getting to that high-percentage area at the net is a good way to compensate for not having an elite shot. You don't need to shoot it like Cole Caufield if you're capable of getting to the top of the crease without anyone touching you.

That high-percentage area is the place where he does most of his damage. Getting there with the puck on his own is a regular facet of his game, but he also shows excellent off-puck positioning. He's constantly in the right place, and picking the right times to drive the middle and make himself available for his teammates in the slot.

An important part of capitalizing on his positioning is his compete level, or "motor" as most scouts would call it. His feet are always moving, and he takes no shifts off. It is virtually impossible to watch a Phoenix game and not notice him out there, not just because he was in their top-six, but because he's constantly out hunting the puck and chances to get to the slot.

Mitch Brown

Physicality is another important aspect of what makes Gauthier successful, particularly on the forecheck and in the neutral zone. He's a relentless checker, always looking to throw the body and disrupt any attempt by the opposition to break out. In the Neutral zone, he attacks puck carriers from any angle he can, turning a lot of pucks over and creating odd-man rushes for his team.

Defensive consistency can also be an issue at times. While he is effective on the zone entry side of transitional play, getting the puck out of his end can be a challenge at times. Improving his shot or puck skills might be the sexier thing to do for his game, but adding some more muscle and showing more consistent checking in the defensive zone might be the better bet for his NHL future. More consistency in the defensive zone would make him a near lock for a future role as a solid checking winger in the middle-six of an NHL lineup.

Gauthier's ceiling is likely that of a solid two-way winger capable of playing in a team's top six, but likely landing more consistently in a middle-six role. But what makes him a first-rounder this year won't be his ceiling, but rather his floor. He's a virtual lock to be an NHL player, so it would be quite surprising to see him fall out of the first round. As Hadi Kalakeche mentions in his scouting report, teams toward the end of the first round are usually more established, and will look to take players they feel can and will eventually slide into their lineup.

Preliminary Rankings

Dobber Prospects: #32
Elite Prospects: #30
FCHockey: #23
Hockey Prospect: #36
Hadi Kalakeche: #29
McKeen's: #28
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #16
NHL Central Scouting: #16 (North American skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): #32
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #18

As for a Montreal Canadiens connection, being on the same team as Roy should not only give the Habs a good read on Gauthier's abilities, they might have significant interest in the possibility of reuniting the pair at some point in the future. They spent significant time together during the season on one of the more potent lines in the QMJHL, and with proper development, there is reason to believe they could be productive in the team's middle six together.

The only problem with that idea is that Gauthier's landing spot seems to be somewhere in the 20s on day one. With the Florida Panthers moving on to the conference finals, the Habs will either need a number of teams to pass on him, or they'll have to consider moving a little higher in the round.

Depending on the cost of moving up, it could be an interesting idea for the Habs. If, on the other hand, he slides to the 29-32 range, it would be an excellent high-floor pick to pair with their top-five selection.

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