As the story has been year after year, the NY Islanders need a top-line winger. Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal are, and will remain mainstays on the Islanders' first line, but a spot on the other wing is open for the taking. Simon Holmstrom, Hudson Fasching, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Anders Lee have all been given opportunities, with none putting a stranglehold on the position.
Though the best remedy for the position would come from outside the organization, Julien Gauthier is an option Lane Lambert has yet to explore.
Signed by the Islanders to a two-year deal during the off-season, Gauthier has appeared in only four games this season.
With the injury to Matt Martin, Gauthier has played on the Isles’ fourth line in each of the last two games, making the best of his opportunities in limited minutes.
In Saturday night's shutout loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, Gauthier played a team-low 8:45 - but with that time, he led the team in shots with four and hits with five.
Last night, playing alongside Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck once again, Gauthier played 10:48, registering two shots and recording his first assist of the season on Clutterbuck’s goal.
“He skates, he’s a big body, he’s been physical,” said Lane Lambert regarding Gauthier’s play over the last two games. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do from that standpoint in the two games that he played. [A] Couple of great chances, certainly against Philadelphia, and set up a goal last night. He’s done what he’s had to do. I like his speed, and I like his size.”
The size and speed mentioned by Lambert are Gauthier's greatest assets. At 6’5”, he moves like a gazelle across the ice. Beating out an icing call on a puck dumped into the Devils zone, Brendan Burke uttered that Gauthier hit a top speed of 24 mph. If confirmed, that would be the highest speed reached by an NHL player this season, bettering Rasmus Kupari of the Winnipeg Jets' 23.95 mph set earlier this season.
Each player to play alongside Barzal and Horvat this season has struggled to keep up with the line's pace of play. Gauthier would add a further dimension of speed to the line and has no issue with banging bodies to create room for others.
If not the top line, his skating and physicality should be good enough to give him a run of consecutive games played. He’s not going to become a 30-goal scorer overnight, but the dimensions he does bring are something this team has been missing.