Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
Growing up in Calgary, Taylor Gauthier’s path to the National Hockey League and WHL was quite literally the time it took to drive downtown.
It was at the Saddledome where Gauthier watched the budding career of Justin Pogge with the Calgary Hitmen as he evolved from a WHL star into a professional hockey player. As young as he was then, something clicked when he saw Pogge between the pipes.
“I really enjoy how they’re always the center of attention and how they can get the crowd on their feet with one big save,” Gauthier said. “Ever since I was little, I’ve thrived to make the big saves and get everyone in the game.”
Since then, he’s made his share of big saves on the big stage and has developed into one of the top goaltenders available for selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. Ranked seventh among North American goaltenders, Gauthier didn’t waver about playing in the WHL on his route to the NHL Draft and the professional ranks.
It’s a happy coincidence that he’s managed to do it with Pogge’s other WHL team, the Prince George Cougars.
“Ever since I was a young kid I’ve wanted to play in the WHL; that’s always been a goal of mine,” Gauthier said. “To be drafted and given the opportunity to play in the league it was a no-brainer for me.”
The Cougars made Gauthier the 10th overall selection in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, the top goaltender selected in that year’s draft. Cougars General Manager & Interim Head Coach Mark Lamb has only known Gauthier for a short amount of time, but has seen firsthand how beneficial that selection has become in the years following.
“My experience with the last year is he’s really the backbone of our team,” Lamb said. “He’s got the right attitude to get better.”
After playing the fifth-most minutes and facing the fourth-most shots out of all WHL goaltenders in the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season, Gauthier hasn’t faced an easy path, not that he’d want one if it was available.
“There are guys in the league that are signed guys that could easily be playing pro,” Gauthier said. “To be able to play against those guys every single night is great. It really prepares you for the next level.”
He hasn’t just caught the eye of NHL scouts either as Hockey Canada has called upon Gauthier several times to represent them internationally. Of his three experiences on the international stage to date, Gauthier recalled his time at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup as a big turning point in his personal development.
Pressed into action in the first period of the gold medal game, Gauthier was unbeatable, stopping all 16 shots as Canada downed Sweden to win gold on home ice, doing so alongside other top draft-eligible WHL players. It also helped get him into gear for the season.
“That was big for the confidence and helped me ride the wave into the season and get my feet under me before the season started,” Gauthier said.
He urged other goaltenders starting the process to not take anything for granted, noting how quickly the time has passed since he was in Alberta’s Bantam AAA system with the Calgary Bisons.
What’s also helped the Calgarian stay among the best is by keeping his cool and growing into his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame.
“I’m more calm now,” Gauthier said. “I’ve always been very athletic; at times I was a little too much flying around the crease.
“I was faster than what the pace of the game was and it allowed me to make mistakes and recover in time.”
He noted that while he was able to recover in time at the Bantam and Midget AAA levels, the same situations at the WHL level would result in a guaranteed goal for the opposition. It’s a step forward in maturity that Lamb has noticed positively about the Cougars goaltender.
“He’s grown up a lot since I’ve met him,” Lamb said. “He’s a real good teammate. When he gets in the net, he’s very competitive. When the other goalie is in the net he’s very supportive, he’s really good on the bench.
“He’s really maturing into an all-around person and player.”