Danny Flynn coached Julien Gauthier, Spencer Smallman and Callum Booth last season with the Saint John Sea Dogs, champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The coach’s opinion: All three Carolina Hurricanes prospects have the potential to play in the NHL.
Another opinion: All three probably would be best served by first playing for the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate.
“I’ve never had a general manager say they left a player in the minor leagues too long,” Flynn said. “Go to the AHL, grow and mature. The American League is a great stepping stone. What’s wrong with first going in there and trying to dominate that league?”
Many Canes fans are eager to get Gauthier in the Canes’ lineup, not trying to dominate in Charlotte. The forward has the size at 6-4 and 225 pounds the Hurricanes need and the ability to score goals, which the Canes badly need.
Gauthier, 19, a first-round draft pick by Carolina in 2016, is attending the Canes’ prospects development camp this week. Also in camp are Smallman, a forward and the Seadogs captain the past two years, and Booth, a goalie who like Gauthier was traded to the Sea Dogs during the season and helped them reach the 2017 Memorial Cup.
Smallman, 20, was a fifth-round pick by the Hurricanes in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft who just completed his fifth season with Saint John, playing 293 games. .
Flynn called Gauthier the “classic power forward” and said he showed steady improvement after the trade from Val-d’Or during the season.
“As most know, he’s big, young guy who’s got size and strength and a great scoring touch,” Flynn said. “He’s a finisher, with a great release. The change he made with us was to play a more complete game. He imposed his will on players and better used his big body.”
Coming off a 41-goal season in 54 games in 2015-16 with Val-d’Or of the QMJHL, Gauthier finished with 17 goals this season – seven in 23 games for Val-d’Or and 10 in 20 games after the trade to Saint John. But his assists total for the 43 games (34) more than doubled his 16 assists in 2015-16.
“I think I improved a lot in the last season,” Gauthier said Wednesday at PNC Arena. “My game has more maturity in it. I need to play a 200-foot game, do what I do best offensively and bring some physicality.”
Gauthier was at his best in the playoffs, scoring 11 goals and adding six assists in 16 games, with a 15.7 shooting percentage and had a plus-13 rating.
“Every time it counts the most, I try to be there as much as I can,” Gauthier said.
The Sea Dogs were ousted by the Erie Otters in the semifinals of the Memorial Cup, a disappointing end to the season. Another bittersweet moment for Gauthier: competing for Canada in the 2017 World Junior Championship, playing well but having to settle for a silver medal as the U.S. won the gold.
“He made good progress overall,” Flynn said. “He’s very coachable, a solid, solid kid. He’s got a great skill set and great hands. He needs to be a power forward on every shift and he’ll be an NHL’er.”
Booth, 20, was traded from the Quebec Remparts to the Sea Dogs and was a big part of the late-season push to the championship and President’s Cup. The Sea Dogs were 16-2 in the QMJHL playoffs as Booth – a fourth-round draft pick by Carolina in 2015 – was stellar in net and had two shutouts in the President’s Cup Final.
“We would not have won the league championship without him,” Flynn said. “He’s very mature, very intelligent, very much focused, and will become a good pro goalie.”
Smallman put up some impressive numbers this season – 30 goals, 49 assists in 60 regular-season games, then 11 goals and 11 assists in 18 playoff games. He scored twice in the President’s Cup clincher.
“A very good two-way player,” said Flynn, a former Buffalo Sabres assistant coach. “I call him a coach’s player. He does a lot of the things the guys behind the bench appreciate. He’s outstanding defensively, outstanding on the penalty kill. He can play up and down the lineup. He’s a high-character guy who will quickly win favor with the coaching staff.”
That’s pretty much high marks for all three.
“I believe they will be National Leaguers,” Flynn said. “They all have that potential.”
CAROLINA HURRICANES DEVELOPMENT CAMP
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
Schedule: Wednesday, Thursday on-ice sessions open to the public (5:30 p.m. starts). Saturday Summerfest Celebration has free admission and parking, with the prospects game beginning at noon.