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Hurricanes' Julien Gauthier muscling up

Carolina prospect takes after his bodybuilder dad, a former Mr. Canada

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In a locker room full of NHL prospects, forward Julien Gauthier stands out. He's the guy with the NHL-ready body.

At age 18, the forward from Val d'Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League stands 6-feet-4 and 224 pounds, measurements that would stack up favorably with the League's biggest forwards. He owes those dimensions to his father, a bodybuilder who once held the title of Mr. Canada.

"I started at nine years old with my father, not doing the heavy stuff, just learning the mode of training," Gauthier said. "When you're under 13, it's pretty hard. You just want to play with your friends. But after that it becomes more fun. When you see the result, that's when you start liking it more."

But Gauthier wants to be clear: All the weight training is just a means to an end.

"Everybody thinks I'm training to be a bodybuilder," he said. "I don't train to look good without a shirt on. I train to be powerful and strong."

Gauthier's frame isn't the only attribute that led the Carolina Hurricanes to select him with the 21st pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. He scored 41 goals in 54 games, relying on a variety of shots and moves that make him look the part of a future NHL power forward. With the puck on his stick, he has options. He can rely on his hard wrist shot or stickhandle through the slot. One way or another, he's going to take a shot.

"That's my game. I want to shoot the puck as much as I can," he said. "I'm a big guy. I'm not afraid to move to the net and drive hard. When I was 16 in the league, I was turning around the net. But now I just drive to the goalie or in front of the net."

Hurricanes coach Bill Peters usually is cautious when passing out praise to prospects. The logic is obvious; young draft picks are works in progress. But he couldn't help acknowledging how Gauthier has prepared himself.

"His size, skill, strength," Peters said. "His fitness testing is off the charts. Now it's just a matter of continuing to grow. He's got a real bright future, like a lot of these kids do."

The Carolina coach identified Gauthier as part of a movement within the organization. Over the past three drafts, the Hurricanes have put an emphasis on bigger players, while not sacrificing skill.

"We're starting to get depth at the NHL level, and we've got kids playing at the junior level and going to college who are going to be really good players," he said. "They're 6-feet-3, 6-feet-5 and they skate. It's impressive."

Gauthier has some hockey lineage in the family; his uncle, Denis Gauthier, was an NHL defenseman from 1997-2009, playing the majority of his 554 games with the Calgary Flames.

"He's a mentor for me," Julien said. "He was a really hard worker on the ice. He played more than 11 years in the NHL and more than 500 games, so he's a pretty good model to follow."

As a goal scorer, he has developed a signature celebration, borrowed from another QMJHL player who reached the NHL. Gauthier hoists the blade of his stick and gives it a twirl, taking a cue from Alexander Radulov of the Montreal Canadiens.

Video: Hurricanes draft F Julien Gauthier No. 21

"I saw Radulov was doing it in Quebec (with the Remparts) when I was younger, and then in Nashville," he said. "I was pretty excited about it. So I just decided to do it, and I never stopped."

Like many first-round picks, Gauthier will wrestle with the idea of being ready for the NHL in his draft year. Sticking with the Hurricanes is a long shot, and Gauthier knows it, regardless of how much preparation he has put into his career.

"I train as hard as I can to be ready as soon as possible, but it's a process," he said. "Of course I'm working hard to do it this year. I want to get my chance. It's a question of timing too. There's a pretty good coaching staff here, so I will just listen."

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