Penguins prospect Taylor Gauthier had two idols as a goaltender while growing up in Calgary.
One was former Montreal Canadiens All-Star Jose Theodore.
The other was Logan Thompson, currently of the Vegas Golden Knights.
And the reasons he looked up to Theodore and Thompson were right.
Like Gauthier, Theodore and Thompson catch the puck with their right hand, something of a rarity in hockey.
It’s so rare that right-catching goaltenders are sometimes referred to as “silly sides” within the parlance of the sport.
Even if he grew up two time zones away, Gauthier’s affinity for Theodore was clear considering Theodore was an All-Star during the early 2000s.
As for Thompson? That’s a bit more personal, especially because finding right-handed gloves and left-handed blockers was difficult for Gauthier as a kid.
“Oh yeah, it’s impossible,” Gauthier said last week during the Penguins’ prospect development camp. “My first pair was just whatever was there. Logan Thompson, he’s a couple of years older than me. He played on one of my buddy’s older brother’s team. He always had gear made for him, custom ordered. He would grow out of his gear, and I would get his old stuff. It’s kind of a funny connection to have. It’s obviously different.
“But at a certain point, you kind of get everything ordered in for you, and you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Gauthier doesn’t have to worry a great deal over where he’ll be playing for the next three years. In March, the undrafted goaltender signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Penguins that begins next season.
Gauthier (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) was pursued by a handful of as one of the leading goaltenders available on the undrafted market this past spring. The Penguins made the strongest pitch in Gauthier’s mind.
“You look at the history of this organization, all the great players here,” said Gauthier, 21. “You have a chance to play with the best player in the world, along with many other elite guys in the league. They really value every person as a player and as an individual as well. There’s places to play. There’s an opportunity here. At the same time, there’s lots of leadership above me. When I got the offer, it was really a no-brainer.”
Also, it didn’t hurt that his junior coach knows a thing or two about the Penguins.
Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston, currently coach of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, gave a pretty strong endorsement to Gauthier.
“He kind of pitched it for me well,” Gauthier said. “He was real happy whenever I signed a contract with them. He had nothing but great things to say about here. He said it was a first-class organization. Being here (for the prospect development camp), I think it’s that and a lot more.”
The Penguins are hoping they will get a lot out of Gauthier.
“He has a great skill set, great gameplan,” Penguins goaltending development coach Kain Tisi said. “He’s a great human being as well. He’s had a lot of success in the WHL. Over five years, he’s played a lot of games. He’s had a good track record.”
Splitting the 2021-22 season between the Prince George Cougars and the Winterhawks, Gauthier appeared in 42 games with a 31-9-0 record, 2.34 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and four shutouts and was named to the WHL’s United States Division First Team.
Gauthier’s figures really took an upswing after he was traded to Portland on Dec. 28. Appearing in 28 games for Portland, Gauthier had a 24-4-0 mark, a 2.16 GAA, a .931 save percentage and recorded all four of his shutouts.
It remains to be seen where Gauthier begins his professional career. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are entrenched on the NHL roster, and veteran journeyman Dustin Tokarski was signed last week to be the organization’s third goaltender.
That leaves Gauthier and Filip Lindberg, a second-year professional, to battle for a spot with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. One of them likely will open the season — and perhaps spend the bulk of it — with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.
Regardless of where he takes his first professional steps, Gauthier realizes management has high hopes for him by virtue of the contract he was signed to.
“To get a three-year deal, it means the team is invested,” Gauthier said. “They’re going to help me develop. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that they made the right choice in offering me that.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .