Cutter Gauthier had a 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward right in his way, hardly even a gap between the two of them.
But it didn’t matter.
As Sutter Muzzatti quickly closed in on the dangerous shooter, Gauthier laced a snap shot. Before the Predators’ fifth-round draft pick could even turn around, the puck was bouncing out from the back of the net.
And Gauthier was lowering to one knee in celebration.
This was NHL stuff from the Flyers’ prospect, just 28 seconds into Boston College’s game against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last month.
“That’s the biggest thing in his game, we noticed it, is his shot,” RPI assistant coach Karlis Zirnis said Tuesday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “With the talent level he has, he still gets his shot off even when he doesn’t have much time and space. That kind of makes him elite, makes him very intriguing for the next level because he doesn’t need much time and space.
“Obviously if you give him more time and space, he can really do damage. But you take time and space away, he can still find the net. It’s not just a hard shot, it’s also an accurate shot. That was the very impressive part about him.”
Gauthier, a 19-year-old center, went on to finish with two goals in the Eagles’ 6-1 win over RPI. The goals came in the opening 7:21 minutes of the action. Gauthier put up a game-high four shots and won 13 of 21 faceoffs.
To no real surprise, the 2022 fifth overall draft pick is off to a big start in his sophomore season. Entering the weekend, his eight goals through eight games are tied for the second most nationally, while his 43 shots are tied for third.
Gauthier is third on Boston College, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, with 10 points. After leading the Eagles in scoring last season as a freshman (37 points over 32 games), Gauthier could have signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers. But another year of going to school and playing at the collegiate level isn’t hurting him. He’s developing on a loaded team.
“We told him about our vision and what we see moving forward, he had a discussion with his advisor and family, and they decided that it was better for him to go back for another year, which I really don’t have a problem with,” Flyers general manager Danny Briere said in April after last season. “I think it’s going to give him the chance to hopefully be even more dominant than he was this year. … We’re going to get a bigger, better, faster, more mature Cutter Gauthier the following year.”
Against RPI, Gauthier scored his second goal with a blast on the man advantage.
“He plays the power play on the flank there, on his one-timer side,” Zirnis, who also coaches the Latvian national teams, said. “That was definitely something we said right away, if he’s got the puck, he’s looking to shoot. That was definitely there in our pre-scout about him, that he has a great shot. But also he can make plays, too.”
Last season, Providence head coach Nate Leaman noticed how Gauthier embraced the Friars’ physical challenge.
“He has definitely got the skill, but also what makes him a great player is that he’s competitive,” Zirnis said. “He doesn’t shy away, he’s not just the razzle-dazzle and that kind of stuff. He competes hard, he checks hard. That’s what makes it very interesting, a very hard player to play against. He’s not one-dimensional.
“Obviously he scored some goals against us, he was on the scoreboard, but also you can notice him in the battles, he also helps his linemates, he drives the line. He’s not just like, ‘Hey, linemates, do the work and get me the puck.’ He’s on the forecheck, he’s relentless on the forecheck and he’ll play hard.”
Gauthier is more of a natural winger, but he transitioned to center with Boston College. The Flyers are hoping he plays down the middle at the NHL level.
“Just the skill set he has and his attention to his competitiveness, obviously there will be growing pains, but I can see him taking that position,” Zirnis said. “He skates very well, he doesn’t labor in his skating, he’s got a good stride. I think especially that, you look at it, centers are always the players that can skate pretty well, can get up and down the ice.”