Cutter Gauthier’s bumpy road to Anaheim

As the star prospect's arrival in the NHL looms, his toughness is already on full display

Before January 8, Cutter Gauthier was a can’t-miss top six forward prospect from Boston College, chosen fifth overall in the 2022 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Since that day, the day he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks, he has been a player under siege.

The story is kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? Gauthier, a big, skilled goal-scorer, is drafted by the Flyers. Fans are stoked. Cutter seems stoked. But by the time he’s ready to sign his first professional contract, he has decided he doesn’t want to play for the Flyers.

He is asked repeatedly to explain and justify his choice, and he declines. It is surely an uncommon decision for a young player not to play for the team that drafted him (see: Thrun, Henry), but he’s well within his rights to make it. Flyers brass travels to Europe to sway Gauthier during the World Junior Championships, but they are rebuffed. Then on January 8 he is traded in a shocking, unforeseen transaction that generates big waves for each team and player involved, some welcome, some bordering on harassment.

The trade ignited a groundswell of anger and decades of pent-up frustration for Flyers fans (they haven’t won a Cup since 1975), and they aimed it right at Gauthier, a 20-year-old. How dare you! You can’t disrespect the Flyers like that! Visits to YouTube or online hockey forums like HFBoards.com revealed pages and pages of anti-Gauthier vitriol. Some equated Gauthier’s decision with him spitting in their faces, and even the media got in on the criticism. On January 10, Bally Sports posted a headshot of the player on Instagram under the headline, “Is Cutter Gauthier the Most Hated Athlete in Philly Sports?”

(We are frequently reminded that Philly sports fans are among the most passionate and dedicated in the country, but in this scenario, they have also represented themselves as among the most sensitive and unforgiving.)

Gauthier was again asked to address the issue on Thursday during media availability in advance of his Boston College Eagles’ first postseason game.

“After the trade was announced, what has the support been like from the BC community, your teammates, your coaches…?” the reporter asks.

 “The guys are nothing but the best,” Gauthier says. “They didn’t really get too involved with it. They knew it was a personal matter, but they’ve been nothing but supportive since day one. They ask me how I’m doing with all the hate and all the stuff that was going on. It was truly special of them to take the time out of their day to reach out to me and see if I was doing OK.”

Hate. The word echoes through the empty Conte Center like a shot off the crossbar.

We have been conditioned to expect every drafted player in every sport to get in line and follow the etiquette of accepting the draft’s outcome and displaying blind gratitude and loyalty to his drafting team. Here’s the hat. Here’s the jersey. Here’s the owner. Smile! Gauthier did all of that in 2022, but then he chose differently. He made a decision in his own best interest and he had the gall to subvert the dominant, often unquestioned script of How To Become A Professional Athlete. A bold move, and somewhat ironic when one considers that bold moves on the ice are Gauthier’s calling card. One can’t be bold sometimes. Bold is as bold does.

Interestingly, the crossroads at which Gauthier will soon stand is similar to one at which Pat Verbeek, the Ducks general manager who traded for him, stood in 1988. After six years with the New Jersey Devils, Verbeek was traded to the Hartford Whalers. Like Gauthier, a change of scenery, a fresh start with a new team, and a golden opportunity to thrive. Verbeek led the Whalers in goals his first year and was named team MVP in his second. He went on to become an all-star, his team’s captain, and many years later a Stanley Cup champion. If Gauthier’s career arc looks even remotely like Verbeek’s, Ducks fans will be thrilled (assuming he achieves it all in Anaheim).

Because yes, what has been obscured by the drama surrounding the trade is one incontrovertible truth: Gauthier is a talented hockey player who is going to make the Ducks better. He scored 32 goals for the Eagles this season and assisted on 20 others. His .94 goals per game was the best in college hockey this season, as were his nine game-winning goals.

“He’s so good defensively,” Elite Prospects wrote in 2022, “using his body well along the boards and in corners to win puck battles and move up ice. Offensively, he’s incredibly efficient. The puck is on his stick and off his stick in transition, but he also recognizes when he has pockets of space to initiate offense himself. Gauthier is unafraid to drive the puck to the net and protects to puck nicely when he chooses to do so.”

Gauthier is one of the premier prospects in Ducks history at a position (right wing) where Anaheim currently has an aging Jakob Silfverberg on an expiring contract.

“When I look at our system and our organization, we didn’t have a player like this in our prospect pool,” Verbeek said of Gauthier after the trade. “There’s not a player like this coming. Gauthier is already two years down the line in his development towards being able to come in and play in the NHL.

“Based on some of the players that we have up front, I think he’s going to complement them really well and they’re going to complement him really well.”

Verbeek’s willingness to trade a popular young defenseman like Drysdale to get Gauthier warrants praise. Verbeek’s predecessor was sometimes criticized for his unwillingness to part with Ducks prospects to acquire a gem, but the January 8 trade was a bold, aggressive move that clearly signals a different approach from Anaheim’s front office. It demonstrates a keen awareness of the current roster’s deficiencies and a commitment to fixing them.   

What awaits Gauthier in Anaheim is more than a cessation of hostilities. It is a palpable sense of optimism—a sense that this player on this team at this time is going to make for some long overdue exciting moments at Honda Center.