Did you know that Adam Brooks and Frederik Gauthier are almost exactly one year apart in age? It’s weird, isn’t it, that Brooks seems so much the rookie and Gauthier so much the guy we’ve seen that time, then again, and again, six feet five all day long, and a few other immutable things as well.
But what is Brooks if he isn’t really a very young rookie? That’s a good question.
2017-2018 Marlies Boxcars
Well, there’s the answer! They’re one and the same, centres in the AHL, close in age, not very good, and enough not very good, that on the team that turned the offence dial nearly as high as it can go, they were both still not very good. Okay, that’s it, we can all go to the beach now.
Ah, but you know these players, at least a little, so you aren’t buying that, are you?
Dammit. Fine, let’s look a bit deeper into the past.
Adam Brooks and Frederik Gauthier through the ages
|Age||Team||Gauthier GP||Gauthier G||Gauthier A||Team||Brooks GP||Brooks G||Brooks A|
|Age||Team||Gauthier GP||Gauthier G||Gauthier A||Team||Brooks GP||Brooks G||Brooks A|
|17||Rimouski Océanic||62||22||38||Regina Pats||60||4||7|
|18||Rimouski Océanic||54||18||34||Regina Pats||64||30||32|
|19||Rimouski Océanic||37||16||16||Regina Pats||72||38||82|
|20||Maple Leafs||7||0||1||Regina Pats||66||45||87|
That’s a lot muddier a view. What should we make of that?
Size doesn’t matter!
So say the multitudes, but that’s twaddle. If that Gauthier age 17 year in the Q isn’t a very big boy among not so big boys, I’ll eat his hat. Meanwhile Brooks — and I have no idea how small he was at 17 — is well below average size for an NHL player now.
Brooks needed time to figure things out, and I absolutely assume that close watchers of those two teams can fill in some blanks like how the two players’ usage changed year over year. Or why Gauthier’s assists ballooned and then vanished. And close watchers of the Marlies can colour in all sorts of detail about last year when Brooks and Gauthier were not exactly the same variety of not very good at all.
Even a casual watcher like me can do that. Here’s some: Brooks played largely on the fourth line, sometimes at centre and sometimes at wing. He played a lot with fellow newb Jeremy Bracco, but also with the intriguing Trevor Moore. They were a small and talented line that was unlike almost anyone else’s fourth line.
Sheldon Keefe doesn’t do things by rote either, so estimating time on ice for the Marlies by line order is a total waste of time. So is any other method of guessing that, as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes, in hockey stats, like in life, things just remain unknown, and we have to live with it.
Gauthier, who played with the guy with the cool initials, Kasperi Kapanen, a lot in years past, spent most of last year on a third line, always as the centre, with Colin Greening, and then, in the playoffs, Pierre Engvall. Much was made of how tall they all are. Much, much, much was made of that. And it always made me laugh a lot, because while Engvall is very game, and can use his reach well and isn’t the worst in the corners, he’s hardly the prototypical big-body player. Oddly, Engvall stopped scoring when moved to that line as well.
Before the trade deadline, the usual winger for what functioned as a fairly old-fashioned checking third line with Gauthier and Greening was often Kerby Rychel.
But both Brooks and Gauthier sometimes centred a line of Rychel and Rich Clune as a much more traditional fourth line, and Mason Marchment and very occasionally Dmytro Timashov floated in and out of this bottom six that changed around while the top two lines were Miro Aaltonen and Chris Mueller with whoever the best, healthy wingers were.
Adding some colour to the box cars is fairly easy too. Brooks had three goals and four assist on the power play, so we know his five-on-five play wasn’t producing much at all. Gauthier had one short-handed goal and two short-handed assists, so ditto. The Marlies had a very good PK that generated a lot of chances on the rare occasion the Marlies were short-handed, and they had a fairly turgid PP that did not produce much relative to the league leading PP opportunities the team generated.
Brooks had 69 SOG to Gauthier’s 52, which makes them both pretty bad. Timothy Liljegren beat them both in only 44 games, and neither the Leafs nor the Marlies play a style that favours defenders shooting a lot. To further set the scale, Andreas Johnsson, who only played 54 games but presumably spent a lot more time in the offensive zone, had 132 SOG. But Greening, in 73 games, had 130, and Moore had 128 in 68 games. We’ve found the shooters on the bottom six lines.
You might assume that, as centres, they both pass first, but I think it’s fairer to say — descending into the eye-test here — that Gauthier just doesn’t handle the puck much at five-on-five, while Brooks at least tries at all times to make plays. That fits with the massive difference in the scale of their junior assist rates, too.
So where does that leave us in trying to figure these guys out?
Gauthier was plunked on the Leafs early for a trial run. (Six and half feet tall, so at least he’s not going to get killed.) He was bad. He came back and was bad, he came back and was bad. And not just at getting points. Looking at those few NHL points of his is pointless because in a ten game stretch, even the longer stretch that one year, there’s so much random chance that hanging your hat (or his) on how much shooting luck he and his linemates had is foolish. But in the NHL there’s more to analyze, and Gauthier never did much that you could call success, and often performed very poorly, even grading on the fourth liner curve.
Meanwhile in the AHL, people will tell you last season was very good, particularly the playoffs. I’m one of those people. I think the Marlies playoffs that led to winning the Cup was the best hockey Gauthier has played since junior.
Brooks on the other hand will tell you himself that he struggled at first as a rookie in the AHL. He put his head down and worked through it, and most of his points came later in the year and into the playoffs. Sometimes Aaltonen’s line hit a big wall of opposition checking, and both of our not very good players did just fine for bottom sixers at picking up the slack. (Not as good as Marchment or Greening, though.)
Marlies playoffs 2018
What should we expect from the future?
Damned if I know. That’s always the truthful answer, by the way. But at a guess, I’ll say that Gauthier, who is now 23, and will turn 24 in the coming season has likely got very little room to grow, and he’s already close to his ceiling.
Brooks, at a year younger, has more space to take a big leap. He’s also more likely because, as his junior record shows, it takes time for a small guy who is not a crushing offensive talent, ripping it up on the top line, to find his way. And, given his usage last season, a little nudge up the lineup to play with better linemates might have him suddenly appear before our eyes as a new man. It sure worked for Trevor Moore going from 2016-2017 to last year.
For Gauthier, the advantages of his height have faded nearly entirely away. I’m sure that reach makes him killer on the PK, and he sure is at the AHL level, but to get anywhere in today’s NHL as a guy who cannot score, you really need to be red hot at shot suppression, and he’s not. He’s not Matt Martin-level good at that even.
For Brooks, the challenges of his height are not going to be completely washed away by experience like they were in junior, no matter how loud you chant ‘size doesn’t matter’. He needs to maximize his speed, his strength, his smarts — well you know, it’s not like you’ve never watched Mitch Marner play hockey. Maybe that will take time or maybe it just requires an opportunity up the lineup. Maybe some of both.
Big or small, it doesn’t matter as much as many think, but it’s not irrelevant. What matters most is how good a player is, and that’s, of course, what we’re trying to figure out.
All players are individuals, of course, and some peak much later in life. But one of the most understandable, but still frustrating, ways fans think about their team is that their prospects — particularly the fun ones, the nice guys, the people you just root for — are the big exception, the massive outlier, and they will indeed be the one to suddenly take the big improvement needed for them to be as good as you wish they were.
Patrick Marleau is a massive outlier to be so good at his age. It’s not like exceptions don’t exist. But, they are few and far between — that’s kind of implicit in the concept of outlier. So those hoof beats you hear are likely horses not zebras, but you never know.
I’m totally telling you there’s a chance for both of these players to take a big leap (watch your head, Freddy). But the probability can’t be divined from some boxcars.