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Teammates and Coaches Defend Cutter Gauthier Against Death Threats and Criticism: ‘A Humble Kid’

Nikita Nesterenko had awakened from an afternoon nap on Monday when he received a cellphone notification. Nesterenko, a former Boston College forward now playing for the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls, saw the name of former college teammate Cutter Gauthier pop up in a post sent out by the Anaheim Ducks.

“Originally, I felt like they were just congratulating him on the world juniors or something,” Nesterenko said. “Something weird. Maybe some kind of connection. And then I saw they acquired him. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’”

The Ducks had traded Jamie Drysdale, a defenseman they drafted with the No. 6 pick in 2020, and a 2025 second-round pick for Gauthier, the No. 5 pick in 2022. The deal sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world, leaving the Philadelphia Flyers disillusioned and enraging large swaths of their passionate fan base.

A near-sellout crowd at Wells Fargo Center embraced the 21-year-old Drysdale this week in his impressive Flyers debut. On the other hand, Gauthier emerged on Wednesday in two interviews to discuss the trade, though he didn’t provide specific answers about how things broke down with the Flyers. Gauthier said he received death threats via social media after reports emerged that he didn’t want to play for Philadelphia.

So, who is Gauthier? Is the 19-year-old prospect being unfairly maligned for wanting a say in his future? And are his skills good enough to justify all this controversy? Some people who have spent time with him, and have watched him closely, believe he’s not getting fair treatment in some circles.

“He’s got a good personality,” Nesterenko said. “He’s not afraid to speak his mind. People are seeing that.
“Obviously, the Flyers’ fan base and organization is going to be a little salty and pissed off that they didn’t get such a star player. Right away, when you’re kind of pissed off, your first instinct is to trash the kid and say that he’s entitled and he doesn’t want to be there. He’s a great kid.
“He made the decision for himself where he thinks he’s going to fit in better. Have a better development for his career and the future. The fact that people are pointing fingers saying he’s entitled and all this stuff, it’s just crazy to me because he was never like that at college. He just wants what’s best for the team. Just a great player and great kid off the ice.”

Craig Button, a TSN analyst and a former NHL executive, doesn’t like how the Flyers reacted in the trade’s aftermath, with pointed comments from team president Keith Jones and chairman CEO Dan Hilferty, who said on a Flyers-themed podcast: “It’s gonna be a rough ride here and he earned it. We’re Philadelphians and we want people who want to be here with us.”

To Button, the Flyers had some complicity in soiling Gauthier’s makeup.
“I’ve been around Cutter for a number of years,” he said. “I think Cutter is an elite player. I don’t know what happened. Does it really matter? The Philadelphia Flyers were able to make a trade. What amazes me is they were going to protect a kid by not saying anything until they traded him. Then they started a smear campaign.
“It’s a bunch of B.S. as far as I’m concerned. … At the end of it, take the high road. I don’t know if Cutter will ever have a comment on it or if he ever needs to comment on it. Bottom line is, I got all the time in the world for Cutter Gauthier. The Philadelphia Flyers recognized that he wasn’t going to play there, and they went and made a trade. Celebrate what you just did. You don’t have to smear the kid.
“It’s funny. I didn’t see anybody in the Philadelphia Flyers organization talking about Eric Lindros picking where he wanted to go. A bunch of garbage is what I think it is.”

Nesterenko played nine games with the Ducks last season after ending his BC career and is working to get back to Anaheim. He’s hoping to be teammates with Gauthier again and feels that, in Gauthier, the Ducks will have a player who will be known for much more than rejecting the team that drafted him.
“When he comes to Anaheim, he’s going to be great,” Nesterenko said. “He’s super competitive. He wants to win. That’s what we’re striving for. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him, honestly.”

The first reaction of Boston College associate head coach Brendan Buckley, when he saw the reaction of others to the trade, was to think of Gauthier, who he knew had a lot going on, beyond the trade. The Eagles staff had given their six members of Team USA’s gold medal-winning world juniors squad some time off before returning to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to rejoin the team and restart their collegiate seasons. Some had returned to campus on Jan. 8. Others were still making their way back on Tuesday. Cutter Gauthier has 29 goals in his 49 games with Boston College. (Michael Miller / ISI Photos/ Getty Images)

For his part, Buckley has “nothing but great things to say about him and what he has done for our program over the last two years.”

“He has been a great teammate, a great guy to coach, he’s competitive in practice, he pushes himself, he wants to get better, he wants the team to do well,” Buckley said. “Last year, we weren’t where we probably wanted to be, and then we had a nice class come in with some good talent and he helped them out and helped get them up to speed.”

He knows the Ducks are getting a good player, too.

“The first thing that comes to mind with Cutter is an elite release and shot,” Buckley said. “He can score from all over the ice and it gets off of his stick quickly. I think it surprises goalies, how quickly the puck can get to them. That semifinal goal on the power play at the world juniors was a great example of how he can just rip a puck and change a game. ”

Buckley said Gauthier has also worked hard to round out his game and prepare for the NHL over the last two seasons.

“He’s just a more mature player now and I think that just comes with being a little bit older and physically maturing, and then also playing in high-compete games, which he has always done the last two years for us,” Buckley said. “He has done a really good job. He works hard and he’s a fun guy to coach because he wants to get better every single day.”

Three years ago, when Gauthier was set to join USA Hockey’s national program, Nick Fohr, one of the coaches for the 2004 age group, remembers there being “a lot said about him.”

There weren’t specifics, but he remembers there being “a bit of a negative connotation from a standpoint of ‘he might be hard to deal with.’”

And so, naturally, he was a little interested in how Gauthier was going to be in their two years together with the team.

In the end, though, “the truth couldn’t have been further from that,” according to Fohr.
“Honestly, all of this stuff that was being said, none of it was true. None of it. He was awesome, and he was a great teammate. He worked his tail off, he was engaging, he had a great relationships with everybody, staff included. He was great. He did everything we asked him to do and he even wanted more.”

Gauthier was billed as one of the stars in his age group from the very start. “Everybody was talking about Cutter Gauthier,” Fohr said. But while he’d finish as that guy — a first-liner for the ’04 team — and would become the No. 5 pick, that’s not where Fohr and USA’s staff started him.
That included playing on the second power-play unit during his time at the program because he played the same spot as a bigger star, Logan Cooley. “It didn’t deter him from going about his business and doing his work and being good with it,” according to Fohr.
“It was a super talented team and he wasn’t played as the highlight guy. Logan Cooley was the highlighted player in the group. And he probably deserved to be on that top unit at times but he wasn’t. So he wasn’t handed everything, he wasn’t given everything, it wasn’t…

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