Growing up as a junior player in Quebec, the name Real Cloutier was in the newspapers with as much regularity as names like Houle, Tardif and Lafleur had been in previous years. He was considered a "can't miss" hockey prospect. He joined the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts as a 16-year-old in 1972-73, scoring 39 goals and 99 points in 57 games. Cloutier and his mates went on to win the league championship and represent the QMJHL at the Memorial Cup in Montreal. The Remparts faced the strong Toronto Marlboros, who were headed by the likes of future NHLers Mark Howe, Bruce Boudreau, and Mike Palmateer. In one of the most lopsided finals in Memorial Cup history, the Marlies thumped the Remparts 9-1.
As a 17-year-old, Cloutier was the star of the QMJHL, scoring 93 goals and 123 assists for an amazing 216 points. Once again the Remparts took the league championship, earning them the right to represent Quebec at the Memorial Cup in Calgary. After starting the round-robin tournament with a 4-1 loss to the OHA's St. Catharines Blackhawks, the Remparts rebounded to beat Regina 5-3, setting up rematch with the Blackhawks in the semi-finals. Cloutier and the Remparts made the most of the opportunity, crushing St. Catharines 11-3. It seemed the Remparts were poised to win the national championship for Quebec, but the Regina Pats had other ideas. With big Clark Gillies leading the way offensively and Eddie Staniowski in goal, the Pats beat the Remparts 7-4 to take the title.
In 1974, the WHA selected Cloutier 9th overall in the first round of the Amateur Draft. At the age of 18, Cloutier was not eligible for the NHL draft for another two years. Feeling that he had accomplished all he could as a junior, Cloutier joined the Nordiques. He scored 26 goals and 53 points in 63 games. The Nordiques advanced to the finals where they lost the Avco Cup championship to Gordie Howe and the Houston Aeros in four-straight games. The following season he netted 60 goals and 114 points in 80 games.
By the age of 20, Cloutier improved on his offensive numbers, scoring 66 goals and 75 assists for 141 points to lead the league. In the playoffs, Cloutier led the Nordiques to their only Avco Cup championship, beating Bobby Hull and the Winnipeg Jets in a tough seven-game series. Cloutier had 14 goals and 27 points in the 17 post-season games.
Cloutier kept his scoring streak going the next year, potting 56 goals and 129 points. In 1978-79, Cloutier won his second scoring title, notching 129 points for the second year in a row. His 75 goals was the second-highest single season total in WHA history behind Bobby Hull's record of 77. At the end of the season, the WHA disbanded and the Quebec Nordiques were one of four clubs to be absorbed by the NHL.
During his first year in the NHL, Cloutier scored 42 goals and 89 points in 67 games, proving he could score there as well. Injuries limited his playing time to 34 games in 1980-81, but he still managed 31 points. With his health back for the 1982-83 season, Cloutier had a 97-point season but his totals dropped by 30 points the following year. After nine years in the Nordiques' organization, Cloutier joined the Buffalo Sabres in 1983-84. In 74 games he had 60 points. In 1984-85 he played part of the season with Flint of the IHL, Rochester of the AHL and four games with the Sabres, where he was held off the scoresheet.
Despite being only 28, Cloutier retired from professional hockey when it had become apparent that his game had begun to erode. Many argued that his deterioration was more mental fatigue or simply a flickering desire to continue playing, as opposed to an erosion of his physical skills. Cloutier was the fourth leading scorer in WHA history with 566 points, trailing only Andre Lacroix, Marc Tardif, and Bobby Hull. Although Cloutier put up good numbers in the NHL, he certainly never reached the same level of success he had enjoyed in the wide-open, high-scoring WHA. In the NHL, Cloutier played in 317 games, scoring 146 goals and 344 points.