Recently, Nazem Kadri missed two games dealing with a neck injury sustained from an elbow to the head against the Arizona Coyotes. It became apparent that not only does this Toronto Maple Leafs team suffer from deficiencies on the blue line, but they are an injury away from a defensive disaster. The club also called up Frederik Gauthier, who when drafted was expected to play the role that Kadri is currently playing. A third or fourth line shutdown centre role.
What the Maple Leafs expect from defensive centre Frederik Gauthier
The Leafs lost two straight with Kadri out of the lineup. Most would point to a less than stellar group of defensemen as the problem for those two games, especially Martin Marincin and Roman Polak. They would be right, but removing the team’s best defensive centre may have gone far in exposing a weak blue line.
No one expects Gauthier to turn the Leafs into a top ten defence, but getting him NHL experience may have turned into a priority for the Leafs after losing Kadri for two games.
With Kadri back in the lineup, the Leafs may be thinking long-term when it comes to Gauthier. If they can see what they have now, they’ll be better prepared for future injuries. They’ll also have a better idea of whether they can rely on Gauthier during late season high-pressure games and into the playoffs. A second reliable defensive line that is not centred by Auston Matthews would be a huge boost. It would allow Matthews to play against the opposition’s third and fourth lines without worrying as much about how many goals the third and fourth lines might allow.
The centre Gauthier could be replacing is Dominic Moore. He has a Corsi For% of 47.9 this season. That’s not terrible for a fourth line centre on a team that’s played a lot of road games, but it’s also not stellar, especially considering the mere nine points he’s added to the offence. Gauthier may not improve things on the offensive side, but he will be expected to provide more on the defensive side than the 37-year-old Moore. The next six games are at home where Babcock can better control the line match-ups. This is a key stretch for the big centre to take a step towards establishing himself as an NHLer.
What do the Leafs expect?
Realistically, what the Leafs should be expecting from Gauthier is an average, not poor, showing over a few games. If he gets those games, they won’t be relying on a centre that hasn’t played a single NHL game in over a year come playoff time. They are hoping to get a player that proves worthy of regular time on the fourth line.
This is not the first time Gauthier has been called up to the Leafs this season. In his first stint, he didn’t see any game time. How much ice time he sees this time around will depend on how confident Mike Babcock is in his ability. Considering this team has an expectation to not only make the playoffs but possibly even win a round or two, the time to test Gauthier is now, not March or April.