Throughout the first month of the season, New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert emphasized that his depth forwards needed to stay prepared and ready for when an opportunity would present itself. Oliver Wahlstrom and Hudson Fasching have each had their moments this season, but now the time belongs to Julian Gauthier.
Gauthier didn't make his Islanders debut until Oct. 21 and then didn't play again until Nov. 13 in Edmonton. After Matt Martin was injured in Vancouver on Nov. 15, Fasching played on the fourth line in his absence. It wasn't until Nov. 25, in the back half of a back-to-back against the Philadelphia Flyers, that Gauthier got another opportunity.
In only 8:45 that game, he tied for the team lead in shots with four. That performance earned him another opportunity in New Jersey, where he picked up an assist. He dressed for the next game in Carolina, and then, with Mathew Barzal out with an illness, both he, Fasching, and Wahlstrom all played against Florida.
After his best game of the season, scoring a goal and an assist in Saturday's 4-3 win in Florida, Gauthier is building a case for staying in the lineup even when Martin is ready to return to the spot he has longed occupied on the fourth line. Head coach Lane Lambert said Martin is still not 100%, but even if he was, it doesn't mean that Gauthier would be the one coming out of the lineup.
Wahlstrom stayed on the ice with Martin as an extra skater on Monday after practice, which is often an indication of who will be scratched the following game. Depending on the availability of Brock Nelson, who took a maintenance day, it appears Lambert could go back to putting Gauthier on the JG Pageau line with Simon Holmstrom while Fasching skates with Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas.
Watching Gauthier in this small sample size, you can see why he was a former first-round pick. He has all the tools and attributes you can't teach. His size stands out, and he's one of the fastest skaters in the league. According to new NHL Edge data, the 26-year-old hit 22.86 mph this season, which puts him in the 91st percentile for speed. In limited playing time, he has seven 22mph+ speed bursts, which is in the 97th percentile.
When the Islanders signed Gauthier to a two-year $1.575M contract, it felt that he would be in a position to be part of a new-look fourth line next season with Clutterbuck and Martin both unrestricted free agents. Now it feels like there's an opportunity for him to get regular ice time right now, and the fourth line isn't the only spot where it could happen.