I watched a single Belleville Bulls game last season, and frankly, I barely noticed Brendan Gaunce (I was mostly paying attention to Nicklas Jensen). As such, I know next to nothing about him, though I was in his media scrum this evening and he seemed like a bright kid.
Anyone writing about a prospect like Gaunce as if they can tell you the specifics about what he needs to improve in his skating stride to really succeed at the NHL level is being intellectually dishonest. I know next to nothing about Gaunce’s game, though I can tell you that the OHL scout I talk to (his name is Victor and we’re buddies on Twitter) raves about him.
Luckily, there are people who get paid well to cover prospects, it’s there business, and I figured it would be worthwhile to recap what they were saying about Gaunce in the lead up to the draft.
Click past the jump for more.
Here’s Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus and ESPN, from his "Top-100 List" (he had Gaunce ranked as the 25th best prospect in the draft):
Gaunce is a bulking two-way power forward who can also finish and distribute the puck at a high level. He is a really smart hockey player with tremendous instincts and vision on the ice. Even though he’s an aggressive checker, he also has the ability to pull up along the side boards, control a power play and be a very effective distributor. Gaunce makes all the little plays consistently with his distribution game and he also is able to show the ability to see and make the difficult passes. Gaunce is a strong player and you see it in his shooting ability as he really leans into his wrist and slap shots, showing plus finishing ability from beyond the blue paint. He is also pretty physically advanced in terms of his frame and muscle mass and is at least in that aspect ready for the next level, although I wouldn’t be crazy about him making the jump until he’s 19 or 20. Gaunce is dangerous on the forecheck with his strength and work ethic, but also shows as much determination in the other end of the rink, where combined with his hockey sense, it makes him quite an effective two-way centerman. His puck skills are average, though, as he’s not one to make a good hands play. He is also is a below-average skater as well who isn’t that dangerous in transition.
Here’s more about Gaunce from Pronman’s draft recap posted just moments ago:
Scouts I talked to have been divided on Brendan Gaunce’s upside, which may have led to him slipping to the late first. I love his hockey sense, shot and physicality but his skating needs work. Due to how advanced his body and reads are, I’ve heard a few scout say he potentially could push for a pro job in the not too distant future.
Bob Mckenzie had Guance ranked as his 20th best prospect on his final TSN list (Gaunce recieved an honorable mention in McKenzie’s early season top ten). Here’s Craig Button on Gaunce’s skill set:
Brendan is big, strong two-way center. He is a good skater with a good stride and he moves well. He can improve his quickness and by doing so, he will become more difficult to stop because with his size, when he gains a step, an opponent is faced with a losing proposition. He is smart and plays the game well both with and without the puck. He makes plays and because he’s smart he gets scoring chances and an improved shot can make him that much better offensively. He works without the puck and is also capable of playing on the wing which adds a component of versatility to his game. He will assert with his body, hold off defenders and create advantages for himself and the team with his approach but is not going to be the punishing type. He has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games become more demanding and important. He’s a very effective player and because he can find a way to contribute in multiple ways, this enhances his play and adds value to a team.
Here’s what ESPN’s Grant Sonier had to say on the ESPN NHL Draft Blog (insider only):
Skating has been a question mark in the minds of many, but he answered any concerns for me on the big ice surface at the World U-18s. With an excellent work ethic, Gaunce has enough skill and drive for the net to become a solid secondary offensive player. He is strong on the puck and leaves it all on the ice.
Brendan Ross of DobberHockey praises Gaunce’s two-way prowess at the Hockey Writers:
Brendan Gaunce is a meat-and-potatoes type of player willing to enter the gritty areas and engage in puck battles. His defensive awareness, positioning on both sides of the puck and faceoff prowess earn him tough minutes as a shutdown option. Offensively, Gaunce plays a power game complemented by above-average passing skills and an ability to unleash a hot wrist in tight quarters.
Playing on the bigger ice in Belleville, Gaunce’s below-average skating skills have been exposed and he must continue to improve his quickness and lateral mobility. Lacking first line upside, Gaunce’s value lies in his size, intelligence, versatility and attention to detail that makes him, arguably, the draft’s top two-way forward.
So what we have is a picture of a hard-nosed, defensive minded forward with good size and skill, who struggles to accelerate and as a result has somewhat limited upside. That’s the read I get from scouting experts who know significantly more about evaluating talented 18 year olds than I ever will.
I urge you to be cautious of folks who are writing as if they have any unique insight into Gaunce’s game based on a youtube highlight pack, and some overconfident googling. I really hope I’ve managed to responsibly promote their work without over-stating my own knowledge of Gaunce’s play style, skill set or ceiling.
Generally speaking, and based on my limited knowledge – I like the pick. I think Gaunce instantly becomes one of the team’s top-5 prospects (that’s based on his NHLE numbers), and certainly he fills a need at center, while continuing Vancouver’s recent trend of targeting bigger, more physical athletes at the draft.