By Corey Pronman, Shayna Goldman and Eric Duhatschek

The trade

Anaheim Ducks get: Forward Cutter Gauthier

Philadelphia Flyers get: Defenseman Jamie Drysdale, 2025 second-round pick

Corey Pronman: The main sub-context of this deal is that Gauthier had indicated he did not want to sign with the Flyers months ago. The world juniors was the tipping point where it became clear that a trade may need to happen after they could not meet with him. GM Daniel Briere and AGM Brent Flahr were present in Gothenburg.

Gauthier is a legit top prospect who could be a top-line forward. He’s a 6-foot-3 center who can skate, is very skilled and has a high-end shot. There has been a debate for a few years on whether Gauthier is an NHL center or wing due to minor concerns on his hockey sense. He was USA’s top-line center at the most recent world juniors and one of the best players overall in the tournament. In Anaheim, he is likely to play wing alongside someone like Leo Carlsson or Mason McTavish. This gives Anaheim a potentially lethal young group of forwards to build around as they try to come out of a rebuild.

Anaheim had a minor predicament with their young defensemen too. Pavel Mintyukov has looked excellent as a teenager in the NHL. He was going to contend with Jamie Drysdale over the long run for power play time. As will upcoming prospects Olen Zellweger and Tristan Luneau. Drysdale is much better than the latter two, but they’re all legit offensive-minded prospects and there is only so much power play time to go around. Anaheim acted from a position of strength in that regard. They do have to figure out what their blue line of the future looks like, and in a defense-heavy 2024 NHL Draft, they could go defenseman with their first pick as the current group does not look like the nucleus for a contender. Ideally, they would add a big two-way defenseman.

Gauthier is a great player, but Drysdale is not that much inferior of a prospect (especially if Gauthier is a long-term winger, and coincidentally in their press release Anaheim announced him as a left wing), he’s just been hurt a lot with only 18 NHL games played since the 2022 season. At the top of his game, he looked like a projected top pair defenseman in the NHL due to his elite skating combined with strong puck-moving ability although he’s not that big. When healthy as he has been for the last few weeks, he looks like a minute-eating defenseman. It’s easy to forget how good he looked as a teenager coming up a few years ago in the Ducks organization.

The Ducks get the best player of the two currently, but given the circumstances, Drysdale is still a very good long-term piece for the Flyers who lacked a top young defenseman of his caliber. He would for example rate ahead of defenseman Cam York on the team long-term. He just needs to stay healthy

Ducks grade: A-
Flyers grade: B-

Shayna Goldman: This one’s easy to chalk up as a loss for the Flyers — they are losing the best player in the deal, after all. And the recent world juniors hype doesn’t help right now, either, since it’s pretty fresh in everyone’s mind just how great Gauthier is. Management likely envisioned the 2022 No. 5 pick to be a cornerstone of the rebuild. But that can’t be in the cards if the player doesn’t want to sign there. The second that’s known, and it’s pretty obvious if he’s being shaped, Philadelphia loses a ton of leverage. So it’s less than ideal from start to finish for them.

The bright side is that management doesn’t walk away with nothing here. Sure they’re the losers of the trade, but it could have been worse — they could have lost him for nothing when his draft rights expired, or been outright fleeced and that’s not what happened here. A second-round pick is of value to a rebuilding team like the Flyers, as is Drysdale.

Drysdale really hasn’t flourished at the NHL level just yet, and injuries have a lot to do with it. But there’s still untapped potential here for the 21-year-old — this is someone who could develop into a top-four-caliber defenseman. If he can stay healthy, it won’t be a surprise to see him round out the defensive elements of his game that need work under John Tortorella and Brad Shaw. And in the meantime, he could bring some strengths that the Flyers need right now. Philadelphia’s power play has been a disaster this season, so it doesn’t hurt to bring in someone who could jump in as a quarterback on the top unit and possibly add a spark.

Jamie Drysdale hadn’t flourished at the NHL level yet for Anaheim. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Even with some upside for the Flyers here, the Ducks are the winners of this trade. There’s been some questions about whether Trevor Zegras can be the guy in Anaheim, which puts more emphasis on the forward group around him. Along with Zegras, Troy Terry, and Mason McTavish, this team’s now added Leo Carlsson and Gauthier into the fold over the last year. That’s a ton of young still up front that should help the Ducks get back to impact status soon, and stay there for a long time.

Considering what they have in their pipeline on the back end — including Pavel Mintyukov who is playing at the NHL level this season, Olen Zellweger, and Tristan Luneau — management can afford to move Drysdale. Pat Verbeek used an area where they have a surplus of talent to round out the forward group even more. So the defense may be less inspiring now in Anaheim without him in the near future, their eyes are rightfully on the big picture which this trade helps support. It’s a gutsy move, but it’s one a manager in Verbeek’s position should be swinging for. Rebuilds hinge on difference-making talent, and this brings in a player with a ton of potential to become that.

Ducks grade: A
Flyers grade: B

Eric Duhatschek: So, this is serious blockbuster stuff, of the kind you don’t see very often in the NHL. Two young players, both with a chance to be stars in the league, traded for each other. But there were whispers, in the GM community last week, that the Flyers might be having difficulty signing Gauthier, though they would have owned his rights for a good long time before losing him as a free agent. But GM Daniel Briere is nothing but not bold, and this is a bold move, getting in front of a potential issue before it ever became one.

From an Anaheim perspective, the deal makes a ton of sense. Organizationally, the organization was knee-deep in defensive prospects. Last year, the Ducks had the top defenseman in each of the Canadian major junior leagues — Olen Zellweger in WHL, Tristan Luneau in Quebec and Pavel Mintyukov in Ontario. Of the three, only Mintyukov had seen regular duty in the NHL this season, but the Ducks had trusted him to play the top power-play unit until Drysdale returned from the core muscle injury he suffered in just the second game of this season, which caused him to miss 29 games in all. Drysdale, it should be noted, also missed most of last season, recovering from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, which limited him to only eight games. It means he’s seen limited action at the NHL level the past two years, or since he put up 32 points in 81 games as an NHL sophomore in 2021-22 — excellent results for a player who was a teenager starting that season.

So, his upside is high — potentially a No. 1 defenseman in the making, a dynamic talent from the blue line, with great hockey sense, very good at knowing when to pinch and when to stay back. Beyond those three, the Ducks also had at their disposal Jackson LaCombe, who joined the organization after playing last year for the University of Minnesota, and played most of the season in the NHL, until getting sent to the minors just last week.

It means they had the blue line depth to make the play for Gauthier, the fifth player chosen in the 2022 draft, the same one where the Ducks got Mintyukov at No. 10. He should be a nice complement to an emerging group of young Anaheim forwards that includes Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish and Leo Carlsson, the second overall choice last June, who is out now with an injury. It’s a more formidable core of young forwards to go with the four high-end defensive prospects.

As for the Flyers, of late they’d been using Egor Zamula to play the point of their top power play, a position he should cede fairly quickly to Drysdale. On paper, it just looks like a win for both organizations. Ducks GM Pat Verbeek probably said it best: It’s a deal you have to make because a player of Gauthier’s pedigree isn’t available, via trade, very often. It’s also worth noting that the manager who drafted Drysdale for the Ducks, Bob Murray, now consults for the Flyers, and so would have provided valuable input.

Ducks grade: A
Flyers grade: B+

(Photo of Cutter Gauthier: Adam Ihse/ TT / AFP)