The Analysis: A deep look at Nathan Gaucher’s game
There are a number of intriguing prospects for the 2022 NHL Draft skating in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Count Nathan Gaucher as one of them.
Gaucher is a 6-foot-3, 207-pound right-shot center out of Longueuil, QC who was selected with the No. 8 pick in the 2019 QMJHL Draft by the Quebec Remparts. He played for the QM18AAA Saint-Hyacinthe Gaulois during his QMJHL draft season, tallying 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 42 games.
In the 2019-20 season, his first in the QMJHL, Gaucher appeared in 59 games, registering 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists). That same season he added another five points (two goals, three assists) in five games playing for the Canada Red at the World Under-17 Challenge. Gaucher followed up his rookie campaign with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 30 games in the 2020-21 season to lead the Remparts in scoring.
Now, he’s amassed 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 30 games in what amounts to his third season in the QMJHL.
It’s not a matter of if, but when Gaucher gets nabbed in the 2022 draft.
Getting To Know Gaucher
Gaucher is a highly competitive two-way center who has some good physical tools. He uses his big frame effectively, can throw his weight around, lean on opponents, has a rocket of a shot and some really nice touch around the net. It’s an interesting package.
Gaucher does it all for Quebec in every situation. He’s a beast on the cycle, can make the occasional sneaky pass, and while he doesn’t string together a collection of maneuvers in sequence, his hands are decent enough to go forehand-to-backhand and show some patience to out-wait a goaltender.
As an NHL comparable, I think Chris Kreider provides a hint at where Gaucher’s potential could be — in a best-case scenario. Although Gaucher doesn’t have same the quickness and offensive ceiling, his net-front play is very similar and, like Kreider, Gaucher is strong on the puck, can blow through the neutral zone and take pucks hard to the net.
Gaucher is slotted at No. 23 in FCHockey’s Winter ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft, second amongst all QMJHL skaters.
Style of play
Gaucher is a nightmare for defenders to face with his size and strength. He can drive around you or through you, but when he wants access to a patch of ice there isn’t much that slows him. As a first-line center, Gaucher is always a threat to shoot or take pucks into the blue ice, but he can also isolate opponents with a give-and-go play, make clever passes to his linemates and takes advantage of a long stick and good puck protection skills to work a solid cycle-game.
Gaucher’s confidence makes him look like a potential high-end draft pick. He’s assertive and doesn’t just pick up the puck — he commands it. The forward is very comfortable with the puck on his stick while at top speed, and he can shoot in-stride or dip his shoulder and pull pucks around the defenseman. He challenges opponents 1-on-1, has a pretty quick release and, especially when driving down the left wing, changes the shot angle to get pucks through and fool goalies.
As an offensive net-front presence, Gaucher is at an NHL level already and it’s not hard to imagine how difficult he is to contain. He’s an imposing figure who creates screens and, even more importantly, forces defensemen to get involved and cause a second layer of traffic for goaltenders to deal with.
What may be less obvious when you look at Gaucher is how good he is at slipping away from defenders and reading loose pucks and rebounds. He has good patience in tight quarters, but when he’s under pressure there are no wasted movements or hesitation. The puck is on and off his stick in an instant.
Gaucher’s passing and puck support is very good. He comes back deep in his zone to support his defensemen, and provides pass options for linemates in transition. He is really good at picking up speed behind the puck and once he gains possession, he exploits that speed differential in a mismatch against the opposition.
Gaucher isn’t an elite passer, but his vision under pressure is outstanding and allows him to find pass options and prolong his team’s puck control. He will also occasionally throw out a sneaky or cute pass that seems contrary to his skillset and is likely not what he will be expected to do at the next level. But, at this poin,t a clever little pass like that shows that Gaucher is engaged in the game and thinking about creative options.
Gaucher can sometimes be just plain mean. He can lay out the big hits and bully players along the boards and in the corners. In puck acquisition, he closes in on opponents all over the ice and seems to really like finishing his hits. In puck protection, he is able to keep guys away with his long stick, reach and wide range of motion. Gaucher can dip his shoulder and drive past defenders, but that doesn’t really accurately describe the menacing nature of his play and how at other times when he dips his shoulder, it’s into the opponent’s chest to drive right through him.
Defensive Zone Play
Gaucher puts in a lot of effort on the backcheck, keeps his feet moving all the way into his zone, and attempts to gain inside positioning. He is a very competitive player in the defensive zone. Gaucher can anticipate sudden changes in possession, defend the slot area, identify and prioritize potential threats, get under sticks and close out passing lanes.
Gaucher typically positions himself on the defensive side and can simply knock players off their feet to separate them from the puck. Even if he were to get caught out of position, Gaucher has the reach and strength to recover and defend in a less than ideal situation.
I would describe Gaucher as a big man who skates like a big man. Defensively, he uses his skating in combination with his size and reach to be able to get his stick into an opponent’s space to make up for a lack of two-step quickness. Although he’s sturdy on his feet and can physically deal with pressure, Gaucher can also show some agility at times with quick stops and impressive directional changes.
His turn radius may be a bit too large and resembles a battleship performing maneuvers, but where Gaucher does excel is in straight-line skating over longer distances where he can use his powerful stride and show the kind of top-end speed that enables him to create separation on the attack.
Areas to improve
I don’t think it’s a must that Gaucher improves his skating, but it wouldn’t hurt. He’s already got really good top speed, nice power and stride length, and he’s able to be very effective and get all over the ice. If he can increase his stride frequency and make further technical and applied improvements to his agility and two-step quickness, that would be value added and then we are really starting to discuss his potential as a second-line center in the NHL.
I don’t see any reason to rush Gaucher into the NHL and I would expect to see him return to the QMJHL for a couple more years following his draft. That would give him time refine the elements of his game that he will need to transition into the professional ranks.
I don’t think Gaucher can expect to be a point-per-game producer at the next level. He needs to utilize the parts of his game that will translate at a higher level and develop the mindset of who he is and play to that identity. I like Gaucher as a big-bodied physical player who can overwhelm the opposition with his size and reach, get up and down the ice with some speed, create space and loose pucks for his linemates, and chip in offensively with a strong shot and net-front play.
The finesse part of his game is fine when competing against junior aged opponents, but Gaucher will really need to embrace the power element of his play, become okay with less production and be dominant in puck battles and board play.
If he buys in, I see Gaucher’s ceiling as a top-six forward with some potential as a second line center, although I would prefer him on the wing where he can regularly be relied on for his strong battle skills and powerful shot.
Even if he doesn’t achieve the best-case scenario, Gaucher has the potential to be a bottom-six forward capable of filling a checking role and developing into a shut-down center after a few seasons.