“With the fifth overall pick, the Philadelphia Flyers are proud to pick Cutter Gauthier.”
Those were the words echoed at the Bell Centre on the night of July 7, 2022 at the NHL Draft. It was debated whether or not Gauthier was a winger or a center, but the highly-touted scorer was a member of the Orange and Black.
Fast forward to Jan. 8, 2024, and those dreams of ever seeing the 19-year-old American in a Flyers jersey were suddenly crushed. A blockbuster trade that shocked the city of Philadelphia and the entire NHL was completed. Shortly after the puck dropped on Monday night against their rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers announced they had traded Gauthier’s rights to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round pick.
Initial reactions were blown out of proportion, until reports surfaced that Gauthier not only did not want to sign with the Flyers, but had not spoken to them in months.
The biggest question leaving everyone puzzled was why Gauthier did not want to play for the team that drafted him. That was somewhat answered by a surprising move made by the now Anaheim prospect when Gauthier appeared on “Light the Lamp,” a Ducks’ podcast that was released Wednesday afternoon. Gauthier went on to briefly explain in the podcast that he did not sign with Philadelphia because it was a “personal matter between himself, family, and agent.”
With that out of the way (for now), Philadelphia is desperate for center talent with the departure of Gauthier. The options are limited for them.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had released a prospect pool breakdown of the Flyers prospects reviewing the team’s top prospects and analysis of each player. The first Flyers prospect at center is not listed until the “has a chance to play” category. That would be 2023 third-round pick Denver Barkey, taken 95th overall. This isn’t a knock against Barkey at all. It just goes to show that without Gauthier as their top “center” prospect, they are extremely thin at the position.
Besides Barkey, the other “top” center prospects listed by Pronman are Owen McLaughlin and Massimo Rizzo. Barkey has been exceptional for London this year, including a four-point night on Jan. 10. Barkey, now in his third season with the Knights, has been better each season since arriving in 2021-22. The Newmarket, Ontario product had 15 points in 53 games in 2021, then burst onto the scene last year with 59 points. This season, he has been on an absolute tear, scoring 21 goals and 39 assists in just 37 games played.
McLaughlin, in his second year with the University of North Dakota, is already outscoring his stats from last year. McLaughlin, a 2021 seventh-round pick, already has 20 points in 19 games played. It took him 38 games to just score 15 points during his freshman year.
Meanwhile, Rizzo, acquired from Carolina this offseason trade, has drawn some attention playing at the University of Denver. The junior has 32 points in 20 games this year for the Pioneers.
Thankfully, the Flyers are more than likely to have two first round picks in this year’s NHL Draft, in part to the Claude Giroux trade with the Florida Panthers. Florida’s first-round pick had a condition of Top-10 protection. But with Florida sitting in the Top-5 of the league standings, GM Danny Briere should not need to worry about that condition kicking in.
The Flyers also have eight other picks to use in this year’s draft:
At the end of the day, Philadelphia has a lot of draft capital available to help replenish at center. Time will tell what they will do, however losing Gauthier’s shot, size, ability to play center does hurt just as much. Especially without a pick near the top of the draft where Gauthier was initially selected.