Julien Gauthier, a highly-regarded 2016 first-round pick, played two full seasons in the AHL before finally getting recalled by the Carolina Hurricanes last week. It was a long time coming for the young power forward, who many felt deserved his first NHL opportunity earlier in his pro career. Yet, the big promotion wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; Gauthier skated in the Hurricanes last two games, but saw just over eight minutes of ice time on average and failed to record a point or even a shot on goal. After last night’s defeat at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team announced that Gauthier had been reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers. It was a very limited NHL debut for the 21-year-old and again raises questions about his future role in Carolina.
The Edmonton Oilers may have a solution to the situation: a trade. The Edmonton Journal’s Kurt Leavins reports that there continues to be interest out of Edmonton in acquiring Gauthier. This is not the first time that his name has come up as an Oilers target, as it was previously noted that his name popped up as a possible swap for divorced prospect Jesse Puljujarvi. Leavins adds that not only is the team intrigued by Gauthier’s minor league production, and the size and skill to translate it to the NHL level, but also his waiver-exempt status, allowing him to be moved back and forth to the AHL as needed. Edmonton is not deep on the wing and Gauthier would likely stand a good chance of earning a regular role for the team, but that waiver flexibility provides added value just in case.
By all accounts, Gauthier alone was not enough for GM Ken Holland to part with Puljujarvi this off-season. However, the status quo has changed immensely since then. Puljujarvi signed in Finland and a recent report from Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston indicates that he is content to stay there all season if he has to. Puljujarvi is a top-ten scorer on a per-game basis thus far in the Liiga, with 11 points in 11 games for Karpat, his hometown team. He has made it clear that he does not want to play in Edmonton and is okay with the success and familiarity of playing in Finland this year if that is his only option. If Puljujarvi has not signed by December 1, he is ineligible to play in the NHL this year, so the Oilers would have to make a trade before that point. Previous comments by Holland made it seem like the team would rather play the long game with Puljujarvi, hoping he boosts his value in the Liiga this year, rather than trade him for a lesser return. However, the team has started the year 5-0-0 and may be shifting their mindset forward to adding immediate help, rather than building for the future. Gauthier would present a chance to do both – add a young, developing forward, but also one that could step in immediately. While Puljujarvi was selected third overall in 2016, 21 picks ahead of Gauthier, there is reason to believe that they could be comparable NHL players. It’s a move that Carolina would certainly be open to as well, as Puljujarvi is willing to sign once traded and would add to their core of talented young Finns.
Of course, the Oilers could also try to pry Gauthier out of Raleigh without moving Puljujarvi. Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ryan McLeod are all promising young forward prospects that the team could dangle for the Hurricanes as part of the return for Gauthier. If Edmonton truly has their mindset on acquiring the up-and-coming power forward and Carolina does not share in their high regard for him, a deal is very likely to be made, one way or another.