In 2022, Cutter Gauthier wanted to be on the Flyers. He was the fifth overall selection at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, and by his admission, he approached John Tortorella, introducing himself:
“This past summer at development camp. Everyone’s just walking right by him [Tortorella], he’s talking to like a couple other staff members, or whatever it may be. I move the staff member guy out of the way and like, I was like, ‘Hey, Cutter Gauthier. It’s really nice to meet you. I’m looking forward to playing for you soon.’ He’s like, ‘Fuck yeah, I love that shit! It’s great to meet you, too! I was sitting there like, ‘It’s nice to meet you too.’ I’m glad you’re that pumped to meet me. Alright, sweet. Let’s do it. Let’s go.”Cutter Gauthier; 4/24/2023
Then, at the end of the 2022-2023 season, Briere noted Gauthier would return to Boston College for another season. He didn’t attend the 2023 Flyers Development or Flyers Rookie Camps. It seemed he made his decision about Philadelphia long ago, and it had to do with the changes in the front office:
“On Cutter, we told him about our vision and what we see moving forward. He had a discussion with his advisor and family, and they decided it was better for him to go back for another year, which I really don’t have a problem with. It’s going to give him a chance to hopefully be even more dominant than he was this year.”Daniel Briere; 4/17/2023
Chuck Fletcher drafted Gauthier. Under Briere, Keith Jones, and Dan Hilferty, the direction still included Gauthier. The actual situation was that to Gauthier, the direction no longer meant the Flyers were ‘home’ after dominating the 2023 IIHF World Juniors and IIHF World Championships.
Gauthier went radio silent on Philadelphia.
Briere didn’t wait. Despite going to considerable lengths to communicate with Gauthier, such as sending Patrick Sharp and John LeClair, Gauthier declined. A sign of refusal to build a relationship with the team who drafted him into the NHL, the Flyers saw everything they needed. They found a trade partner with the Anaheim Ducks, sending Gauthier for Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round pick.
Last season, Drysdale played eight games for the Ducks.
In seven of his eight games with Anaheim last season, he was deployed in a 12/6 lineup structure. It was his final game of 2022-2023, in late October 2022 against the Vegas Golden Knights, when the lineup deployed an extra defenseman. Drysdale played 7:22 on the ice before leaving with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The hit by William Carrier forced Drysdale to miss the remainder of the season.
The Ducks are in a rebuild, too. Recently, they selected Leo Carlsson as second overall in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. Sending a top-pair defenseman who missed the entire 2023 portion of last season with a torn labrum for a top-class forward means Anaheim possesses explosive firepower.
What Briere, Jones, Hilferty, and Tortorella like about Drysdale is his immediate instinct to be a puck-moving powerplay presence. In 2021-2022, Drysdale played 81 games with the Ducks, averaging 2:03 on the powerplay per game while notching 12 assists.
Drysdale in Philadelphia
Swapping a prospect who changed his mind on Philadelphia for a top-pair talent like Drysdale is a no-brainer. Jones knew Gauthier wouldn’t ever present the Flyers with more trade value than he had after an incredible IIHF World Juniors and World Championship showcase. Loud enough for the people in the back, the statement was clear:
“He [Gauthier] didn’t want to be a Flyer. So, we had to come up with a plan, and fortunately, we were able to execute on that plan. His value would never be higher than it was after the World Junior Championships. It was only going to decrease if the word got out there. I have to give a lot of credit to the people we were negotiating with that they kept this quiet. It could’ve became a much more difficult situation, so the other general managers, [and] presidents around the league were outstanding in keeping this a private matter. You don’t want to be a Flyer, you’re not going to be a Flyer, and we were very pleased in the return that we got.”Keith Jones; 1/8/2024
Once Drysdale had his first practice, Tortorella fielded questions about him in his media availability, but he provided an answer to a question about the defensive philosophy in Anaheim versus Philadelphia:
“It’s a man-on-man versus a zone. There’s only so many ways you can play defense in the league. Watching the tape, it looks like a strict man-on-man for them [the Ducks]. In conversations with him [Drysdale], I don’t think he’s played much zone. [He’s a] bright kid. They’ll be some situations he won’t understand but I think he’ll get through it really quickly and we’ll live with some of those mistakes as we teach him our coverage.”John Tortorella; 1/9/2024
In his short time of adjustment, Drysdale flashed high-end talent, but had growing pains, too. He lost sight of Nathan MacKinnon in a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, who burned him, Travis Sanheim, and Tyson Foerster with a very alert bench play into the attacking zone. Then, versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, he scored his first a Flyer. A rover, Tortorella cited, is the prototypical usage of Drysdale in Philadelphia.
“I’m just picking up things as I go, and just go from there. It’s been good. Everyone here has been great with helping me; coaches [and] players. Little tips here and there. Hopefully, it’ll be soon enough that I get everything under control and go from there.”Jamie Drysdale; 1/25/2024
Most often, Tortorella deploys an 11/7 lineup format. The only two games that broke the 11/7 structure since Drysdale became a Flyer were against the Detroit Red Wings and versus the Boston Bruins when Olle Lycksell entered the lineup. Drysdale acts as a mobile, ranging defenseman with a longer leash to interject fluidly between defender and forward tendencies. Nicolas Deslauriers is the other odd man out but will return if the matchup favors his fourth-line style. For now, this is a tongue-in-cheek way for Tortorella to play an extra defenseman without sacrificing much skill, especially while Bobby Brink reignites his engine in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
With Philadelphia, Drysdale played 10 games. He totaled three points (1G, 2A), where two points are from the powerplay (1G, 1A) while averaging 2:20 on the man-advantage each game. Tonight, he will be in the lineup versus the Seattle Kraken at 7pm.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)