Chris Bordeleau of NHL Central Scouting has tracked the progress of countless players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League pipeline over the past three decades.
Still, he struggles when asked to recall a forward matching the defensive acumen and awareness exhibited by 2013 draft-eligible center Frederik Gauthier of the Rimouski Oceanic.
The closest resemblance might be Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier, who starred for the Drummondville Voltigeurs for three seasons. But even that's a stretch.
"I've never seen a kid get back and play defense like he does in 20 years," Bordeleau told NHL.com. "In his own end, he's always around the puck. A kid that can play defense like he does at his age, with that kind of maturity, is very rare."
At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Gauthier is a rather intimidating specimen on skates. Off the ice, he's a gentle giant.
Up until four years ago, Gauthier also was a pretty good football player.
"I had to choose between football and hockey, and chose hockey," he said.
Prior to joining Rimouski this season, Gauthier had 26 goals and 51 points for midget-AAA league champion College Esther-Blondin Phenix. He also had 13 goals and 24 points in 13 playoff games, helping lead his team to the championship game of the Telus Cup, Canada's national midget-hockey championship.
In 2012-13 Gauthier ranked fourth among first-year players in the QMJHL with 60 points (22 goals) in 62 games.
"I like the defensive aspect of the game," Gauthier told NHL.com. "I'm pretty good defensively and on penalty kills. I like to play in those kinds of situations … as a two-way forward. I can add some offense, too."
Bordeleau believes Gauthier not only is a legitimate candidate to be a first-round pick at the 2013 NHL Draft on June 30, but a high one. The left-handed shot is No. 8 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.
"He's the first player back, gets the puck, turns the play around and goes the other way," Bordeleau said. "He has great hockey sense, can shoot the puck and reads the ice. He's a natural talent. By the time the draft comes around he'll be about 6-foot-6."
Gauthier refuses to rest on his laurels despite the prominent final ranking.
"It's always nice, but I still want to get better," he said. "I know I'll have to work hard."
Gauthier three times produced a six-game point streak this season, while also totaling 16 multi-point games, including a season-high four points in a 6-1 victory against the P.E.I. Rocket on Dec. 9.
"He plays a 200-foot game," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "His motor is always going and he helps down low and can be right back into the play and create on offense. He has unbelievable hands in traffic for a guy his size and can make plays. I didn't know him at all from last year, and was very impressed when I saw him this year."
Gauthier also led all first-year league players in the league with 682 faceoff wins, on 1,463 draws (46.6-percent efficiency).
"Faceoffs are a big part and important to me because when you start with the puck, you're not chasing it," Gauthier said. "It's easier to go on the offensive than playing defense. But I know that if you play good defense, you're going to create good offense.
"You're a team … there's a defensive end and offensive end and you have to chip in with both. I learned that every time you're on the ice you have to give it what you got, and on the next shift give it what you got. You have to empty the tank each time you're out there, and that's what I try to do."
With that mentality, it's no wonder Gauthier's draft stock has risen dramatically since the start of the season.
"I'm always intense in my defensive play and I like to work hard and do things at both ends of the ice," he said. "I know I need to use [my size] to an advantage more often, though. I use it now, but not as much. I need to use it more in battles and in one-on-one situations along the boards and with my reach -- that's another area I can improve."
When Gauthier finally does figure out how to use his size to an advantage, it could mean bad news for any general manager passing him over at the 2013 NHL Draft.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer