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Gauthier dominant in QMJHL playoffs

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The former first round pick is finally becoming a dominant offensive threat in the QMJHL.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"I should mention that he's one of the most important players in the Q and he plays in Rimouski, and we're thankful for this," said Rimouski head coach Serge Beausoleil, of Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier in an interview following Tuesday's Game 3 victory against the Gatineau Olympiques.

After a season hampered by two injuries, Gauthier, the Leafs 2013 first round pick, is coming into his own in the QMJHL playoffs.

"Ultimately, he played a half season with us, so that's a big add (having Gauthier healthy) for us," Beausoleil said.

When the regular season concluded, I wrote about the dip in Gauthier's offensive production, linking it to a missed training camp, and a concussion that cost him a month of his season, with the World Juniors wedged in between.

But as the QMJHL's second round continues, Gauthier has been dominant.

Tuesday night in Gatineau, for Game 3 of Rimouski's series with the Olympiques, Gauthier was the best player on the ice.

This, in a game with several drafted NHL prospects, includuing Samuel Morin (Flyers), Christopher Clapperton (Panthers), Jan Kostalek (Jets) and Valentin Zykov (Kings) and draft-eligible players such as Yakov Trenin and Alexandre Carrier, was impressive.

Known for his defensive awareness, and strength on faceoffs, it was Gauthier's offensive decision-making, skating (he's much lighter on his feet than in years past) and strength that stood out in my fifth viewing in the last two years.

Easily his best performance in those viewings, it was clear Gauthier not only feels he can control a game, but also that he can use his speed, once a hindrance, to his advantage.

Expectedly strong in the dot, and counted on heavily for most defensive zone draws, Gauthier was also used for offensive zone opportunities, and a go-to option on the first powerplay unit.

With the man-advantage, for the first time in my viewings, Gauthier was used as the distributor, rather then a net-front presence.

Again, he was effective and ran the powerplay creatively from below the goal line and along the wall, setting up a nice goal and originally receiving an assist before having it taken away due to a deflection in front of the net.

He also used his much-improved stride to his advantage, creating four chances off the rush and hopping into one odd-man rush on the PK (in year's past he would have likely stayed back).

In the second period his skating paid off, creating another goal off the rush with a beautiful, near-end-to-end rush, setting up Clapperton for a goal.

Beausoleil, who leans on Gauthier heavily, said he was thrilled with the duo of him and Clapperton, a former fifth round pick.

"He played well defensively but he also created a lot of scoring chances as well with Clapperton, so that's big," he said, shaking his head.

Several of these opportunities were created through his ability to disrupt the play on the forecheck, and use of his reach and awareness to anticipate plays or pick a puck off a defender.

For a player known for his safe, mechanical play, Gauthier used his creativity to his advantage, chipping pucks off the boards to put himself in alone, and feathering risky, high-skill passes to teammates in the offensive zone.

Along the boards, he was equally impressive, using his hulking frame to control the puck, almost effortlessly.

It was an impressive performance, and his play was evident on every shift.

"He played well, he played really well," Beausoleil said. "That was a great game for him, both sides -- 200 feet."

"He's one of our tremendous leaders. He leads this team."

The towering centre now has 10 points in seven playoff games with Rimouski, who take a 2-1 series lead over the underdog Olympiques with the 5-2 win.

Note: You can find my scouting report on Gauthier and dozens of others in the upcoming McKeen's Hockey NHL draft and season preview yearbooks, so keep an eye out for that. As always, if you have any questions about the Leafs prospects, or the upcoming draft's talent, leave it in the comments or shoot me a tweet @scottcwheeler.