WHL Next Generation is a 22-part series highlighting a handful of the future stars of the Western Hockey League. From first-round bantam draft picks to later-blooming selections, get to know the names of players set to establish themselves as the newest crop of exciting talent to grace the WHL. From August 1 through September 11, get the inside scoop on the incoming crew of 16-year-olds.
It wasn’t easy for Prince George Cougars prospect Taylor Gauthier to find goalie equipment that fit him growing up, not because he was tall for his age, nor was he particularly small.
His unique advantage is catching with his right hand, while most goalies catch with their left.
Even the most die-hard hockey fan may not realize that legends like Roger Crozier, Tony Esposito and Grant Fuhr caught with their right hand.
In fact, the only right-catching starting goalie in the NHL right now is Steve Mason of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gauthier sees it as a competitive edge.
“It’s definitely a different way to play,” he said. “Guys come down the wing expecting to shoot at my blocker but it’s my glove, so that plays a big part in how well I can catch the puck and how good my glove hand is.”
It didn’t take long for the lefty to get settled in at Cougars Training Camp last week.
The 16-year-old from Calgary kicked off main camp with a bang by posting a shut out in the annual Young Guns game, and the momentum has just kept building from there.
“Anytime you step on the ice and you get a shutout it’s always a big confidence booster. I thought that was a big, important step for me at the start of camp,” Gauthier said.
It’s not easy for a 16-year-old to break into the WHL in their rookie season, but Gauthier said he feels up to the challenge.
“I think I’ve been getting better every ice time and I think I’ve been showing the Cougars’ staff that I can play at this level of hockey,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working hard in practice and playing hard in games and just showing that I can compete and that I’m able to make those key saves in the games and give the guys a chance to win every time I step on the ice.”
And Gauthier has shown a penchant for doing just that. This past season, the then-15-year-old goalie led his CBHA Midget AAA Buffalos team to an Alberta Midget Hockey League regular season title, posting some impressive numbers in the process.
In 17 appearances with the Bisons last season, Gauthier put up a 2.06 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
“I had lots of fun. Met a lot of good guys and I think I improved my game quite a bit. Being one of their top guys, I thought, was really good for the confidence,” he said. “To know that my coaches had confidence in me whenever they put me in the game was really nice.”
Now, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound crease keeper is looking to put up similar numbers for the Cougars this season.
Prince George’s first round pick, 10th overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft – the first goalie taken in the top 10 since the Tri-City Americans took Carey Price 7th overall in 2002 – Gauthier has been doing everything he can to learn from his coaches and the other veteran goalies at camp, like 19-year-old Tavin Grant.
He’s also been doing his best to soak in the feeling of playing in a WHL arena in front of hundreds if not thousands of people, something he got to experience first-hand during the annual Black vs. White game last week.
“It was really an amazing experience. I haven’t really played in front of that amount of people at one time and they’re all out there to support you and everything, so that was just a really great feeling to get that out of the way.”