Prospect Profile #7: Brendan Gaunce


Just one summer removed from being controversially named CanucksArmy’s top Vancouver Canucks prospect, 2012 first round pick Brendan Gaunce has seen his stock plummet and is ranked at #7 this time around.

In my view, Gaunce’s stock isn’t down as much as his slide down our rankings might suggest. Bear in mind though, I say that because his stock shouldn’t have been high enough to place him at number one in the first place. I had Gaunce at number three last year, and I had him at number six this time around – which isn’t a huge fall considering that the Canucks have drafted twice in the top-10 at the past two NHL Entry Drafts.

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Meta-commentary that quibbles about Gaunce’s place in our prospects list is so last August though. While Gaunce’s slide down our list probably overstates the extent to which his development has flat-lined, It’s probably fair to say that the sturdy two-way forward’s development and production have not come along as hoped since his draft year. Still, it’s not all doom and gloom here, Gaunce has scored 30 goals in each of his previous two OHL seasons, he’s still just 20-years-old, and he’s only just about to turn professional.

Gaunce’s 2013-14 season saw him traded from the rebuilding Belleville Bulls club that he captained in 2012-13, to Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters. Playing in a second-line role in the more competitive Western Conference, mostly alongside Washington Capitals first-rounder Andre Burakovsky (though he also took a good deal of shifts with Dane Fox and Connor Brown) and on the first power-play unit, Gaunce managed 46 points in 43 games in Erie. On the season, he finished with a career high 72 points last season – which is fine, but a bit disappointing for a first-rounder who scored 68 points in his first draft eligible campaign.

The big pivot’s even-strength goal scoring rate – a major reason I’ve been so high on Gaunce over the years – also cratered this past season, as he managed just 16 even-strength goals in 72 games between the Otters and the Bulls.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, after all we’re still talking about a 6-foot-2, 220 pound, 20-year-old forward who is on the eve of his first season in professional hockey. Gaunce remains a trusted two-way piece and still has time to get his offensive game back on track. While his offensive upside has always been a question mark, I still think he’s got above average offensive skills.

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Not only is Gaunce a plus playmaker with above average vision, a hard, accurate wrist shot and good hands at the net-front, but he’s got that intangible nose for dirty goals. Whether that garbage goal gene will translate against professional goaltenders is anyone’s guess, but his solid on-ice awareness and NHL-ready size suggests to me that it could.

One of the biggest challenges for Gaunce going into his rookie season in the American Hockey League is whether or not he’ll be able to stick at center in the professional ranks. In my estimation, he’s better on the wing (where he often played during the 2012-13 season), and may not have the foot-speed to cover the middle of the ice at the AHL and NHL levels. 

In terms of true natural centerman, the Utica Comets will go into next season with Cal O’Reilly, Dustin Jeffrey, Kellan Lain and Alex Friesen down the middle. That’s a group that probably doesn’t rate all that strongly in comparison with the Comets’ potential depth along the wall (Nicklas Jensen, Darren Archibald, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brandon DeFazio, Ronalds Kenins, Alex Grenier etc.).

Considering the roster composition of Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, it’s probably worth allowing at least one of Gaunce or his Otters teammate Dane Fox to fail at center before moving them to wing, and I’d think that Gaunce – based on his size and what the club has invested in him as a first-round pick – would be first in line. This is a minor league training camp story that could be worth watching this fall.

One other note on Gaunce, he’s extremely smart and well spoken, and he’s also ludicrously competitive. A noted gym rat, Gaunce has also started the season slowly repeatedly over the years and I’ve begun to wonder if he’s been in the habit of reporting to camp with too much weight on his big frame. The Canucks have reportedly asked top-heavy Bo Horvat to lean out this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gaunce was given similar instructions. It could do him some good and hopefully allow him to show better at the Penticton Young Stars tournament than he did last September.

A full-fledged professional now, Gaunce will be at Canucks training camp this September and it’ll be interesting to see how difficult he can make it for Willie Desjardins to cut him. No one expects Gaunce to break camp with Vancouver’s NHL club, but the opportunity is there for a surprise player or two to bust into the top-13 forwards. I’d have Gaunce (along with Horvat, Jensen, and Jeffrey) on my short-list of players who could realistically surprise this fall.

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More likely, Gaunce will have an extended opportunity to cut his teeth at the AHL level this upcoming season. There’s going to be a lot of internal competition among Comets players to be the first injury call up, and I’ll be very curious to see how Gaunce’s production and abilities stack up against the likes of Jensen, Shinkaruk and Fox. One thing working in Gaunce’s favor is that his skill set and size project into a bottom-six role (put it this way: the Canucks aren’t calling up Shinkaruk in the event of a Brad Richardson injury), so it wouldn’t be a mind-blowing shock to see Gaunce get a cup of coffee in Vancouver next season.

In summary: don’t let Gaunce’s depressed spot in our rankings confuse you, there’s still significant reasons to be optimistic about his development and his NHL future. His offensive game hasn’t come along as hoped since his draft eligible season, but it’s way too soon to write off a 20-year-old forward with the on- and off-ice intelligence that Gaunce has consistently displayed throughout his major junior career. 

Here’s the obligatory highlight video of Gaunce’s 2013-14 season:

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  • elvis15

    Dear Thomas,

    There seems to have been a change to the going rate for baked goods for buying Brendan’s ranking, please provide an updated 2014 estimate so I can forward the outstanding cookies to your mothers basement.

    Proud mother of Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce,
    Mrs. Gaunce

  • elvis15

    I’d have Gaunce (along with Horvat, Jensen, and Jeffrey) on my short-list of players who could realistically surprise this fall.

    I’m assuming Jeffrey refers to Dustin Jeffrey? His signing totally flew under the radar for me. It looks like he has some NHL experience though.

  • elvis15

    “he’s got that intangible nose for dirty goals”.

    Well said and this is why I still have moderate hopes for Gaunce at the professional level. I think he could be a pretty decent garbageman with his size and instincts.

    Every time I saw him play in pre-season last year the puck would somehow wind up on his stick and then in the back of the net. Always from about four feet away from the goal.

    So while I am not about to pronounce him the Canucks version of Dave Andreychuk, I am not “down” on him like many here have become.

  • How do you manage to turn a kid with so much upside, give him a decent spot in the rankings, and then pretty much talk down most of his attributes. He went from captaining a team to being a 2nd fiddle, and still managed to put up points (mostly) behind the Os most prolific line, all the while handling the other teams best players in a two way role.
    While switching teams 1/3 of the way through the season he put up nearly the same amounts of goals and boosted his assists by 14 from the previous season.
    Great in the circle, ridiculously strong on the puck and boards, wins battles in front of the net, great hands, better passer, a beast of a human at only 20, noted as a natural leader, this kid has serious power forward written all over him. He also should have made the Canadian World Junior team with his performance at camp.
    I think he is probably the most NHL ready prospect in the system. Is he a top 6 player? Probably not, but then they said the same thing about a couple of other notable forwards with similar skill sets in Bertuzzi and Kesler. And he is much bigger than either of them were at that age.

    • Mantastic

      considering his size, he clearly should have physically dominated junior but he didn’t, where the average weight and strength of a junior player is significantly lower than that of professional tiers.

  • Mantastic

    I have to say that the future is looking brighter than it was some time ago…

    There are of course a lot of variables…a lot of ifs…but the potential is there for a great team in the future.

    I can’t help but look forward to the potential of a Gaunce-Horvat-Fox line…physical, defensively responsible, but definitely hopefully gifted enough offensively to be more than just a great third line.

    And what about a Shinkaruk-Vey-Virtanen line? Vey the play-maker flanked by a dynamic scorer in Shinkaruk and a physical goal-scorer in Virtanen. The question is whether they have the ceiling to be a top line…or if they’re better suited as a second line. Virtanen and especially Shinkaruk have the pedigree and potential to be first line scorers, but whether or not it happens remains to be soon.

    I see Jensen eventually playing with the Sedins, and all of sudden you have a very good looking top-9 forward unit. Another key will be the how the Sedins hold up as they age. Will they continue being able to score 60+ as they near forty like Selanne, Alfredsson and St. Louis?

    If so, and if the younger players develop as they should…I see no reason Vancouver won’t be able to be competitive, even in the tough Western Conference, in a few years.

    I’m not saying they’ll reach the heights of the 2009-2012 era…but at least there’s some light at the end of the dark tunnel Canucks fans have been in!

    • Mantastic

      that is way too many IFs. the success rate of any prospects hitting their ceilings is pretty low but ALL of them hitting their ceilings is even worse/impossible. no team, that i can remember, has ever graduated 90% of top prospects. so that’s just being delusional.

      • Mantastic

        The likelihood of Vey not playing in the NHL is very unrealistic. If he’s not with the Canucks, he’ll be with someone else. He’s not likely to clear waivers.

        A third line of Gaunce-Horvat-Fox is only Fox hitting his ceiling, and the others meeting expectations. Sub Jensen into that line in Fox’s place, and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation.

        His projected second line of Shinkaruk-Vey-Virtanen isn’t unrealistic, either. To me, the question with Shinkaruk isn’t whether or not he makes the bigs; it’s whether or not he can physically take the pounding.

        To be clear, however: I expect Vey to make the team this year. I’d like to see Horvat force their hand (and I believe he could), but I don’t expect it this year. Jensen’s got an even chance, but could still profit from time in the AHL. The rest will be either Comets or back to the minors, as appropriate. Gaunce is probably the likeliest for a call-up. Even if it’s a top-line injury, they’ll just bump up & have Gaunce fill from the 4th line.

        • If the Canucks are serious about youth they will keep Horvat. As the OHL’s best defensive forward and face-off champ, he’s unlikely to make dumb plays. He should at least see the first regular nine games like his London team-mate Nikita Zadorov did with Buffalo last year.

          • Why would you want to rush any of the prospects up? If you have potential top-six players in Horvat and Shinkaruk, wouldn’t you want to get them top-six minutes for their first year of pro? I don’t see why we’d bring in Horvat to play 5 min a night which is what he’d do on the big team.

            The teams that actually develop talent don’t do it by throwing the prospects they have into the fire before they’re ready. I’m actually really impressed that we’ve been as patient with Corrado as we’ve been.

          • andyg

            The Canucks talk about rejuventation and the way to do it is by playing one of their recent first-rounders.
            Shinkaruk is old enough to be sent to Utica which is the best for a player who’s been healing for seven months.
            Gaunce needs the step-up in speed provided by the AHL.
            Horvat would have to be sent to junior where he has nothing left to learn even from such brilliant teachers as the Hunters. I think Horvat is already better than any of the alternatives for third line centre where he would play 12-14 minutes. Anyway, we’ll see how he does in his first few games. I expect good things in line with his junior career as a very smart checker.
            I think Horvat’s London linemates Chris Tierney (San Jose) and Max Domi (Phoenix)will also make the show.

          • argoleas

            But wouldn’t that relegate Horvat into a 3C role and potentially stunt his development? It would make more sense to have him play a 2C role in the AHL and perhaps even (slowly) move up the depth chart there. There’s no chance he’s going to supplant someone here on the top two lines and I just don’t see how this is going to aid his growth. And I’d disagree that Horvat straight out of junior is going to be a better alternative than Vey or Matthias.

          • argoleas

            From where I’m sitting, this is how things look:


            I want to give Matthias first crack at the 3LC spot, was really intrigued by what I saw at the end of last season. Big kid, can move, has some offensive potential, solid defensively.

            Do we give Horvat the first nine games with the big club, see if he cuts it as a 4th liner? Either on Richardson’s wing or bumps Richardson to the wing and takes the 4LC spot? I really like Horvat, but I’m not sure he beats anybody out for a spot this year.

            Personally, I’d rather see Horvat go back to London and play 20 minutes a game as THE guy. He’s too young for Utica, it’s Vancouver or London for him.

          • argoleas

            Keeping Horvat in Junior is still the best option. I dont see him playing anything but 4th line minutes with the team, and I agree that this would stunt his development than playing tons of minutes in Junior. After next year he will need to spend a year in the minors. I believe the team has drafted well over the last 2 years, so lets not waste what we have by rushing anyone.

          • argoleas

            Oh crap, right how did I forget that Horvat can’t go to the AHL? Anyway it’s still better to have him in junior than stagnate on the fourth line here. Someone said earlier that we should follow what Buffalo did with Zadorov. Yah, no. I think anytime anyone starts a thought with “we should do what Buffalo/Florida/Flames/Oilers” did with their prospects we should stop reading right there. You could probably put the Canucks in their too, that is if we actually had any prospects to ruin…

          • argoleas

            Yeah, the young guys should develop properly and not be saddled with minimal minutes at the NHL level. I agree with that 100%. No need to rush them. The Canucks don’t have a team that will make noise in the playoffs and they are likely to miss the post-season again.

            I’m hoping Benning makes some big deals at the deadline and gets rid of, at least, a couple of our vets for young, blue chip players.

          • argoleas

            I think you’re 110% wrong. First, the Sedins won’t want to move. Even if they do want to move, their contracts are big and they come as a pair. Also, based on their last season, they’re not worth those contracts.

            Solid vets that have decent contracts and are still performing: Bieksa, Hamhuis, Higgins, Hansen and a few others. The NTC and partial NTC makes it tougher (another big thanks to Michael D) but these guys may reconsider if the team stinks again this year.

          • argoleas

            Actually, it’s the other way around.

            If the Sedins are traded (and, I assume they only move because they wish to play on a ‘contender’), they will be traded around the draft/free agency, when teams are restructuring their rosters. From July 2 on out, all NHL rosters are basically set. There’s no room for the Sedins on any team they might want to play for.

            A ‘Canucks-are-sellers’ deadline deal scenario has the Canucks dealing one or more of of Burr, Higgins, maybe Hansen, and/or one or more of Bieksa, Hamhuis, or Edler. Everyone else is too young, too cheap, or too Sedinish.

            Well, maybe also Miller, if Lack looks like the real deal and Miller wants out. Because Canucks = weird goaltending problems.

          • It wouldn’t surprise me if Horvat was kept up for the standard 9-game stint to start the season. It would allow him to see what being a pro is about. But they should still send him down, unless he makes it impossible for them not to do so.

    • “a Gaunce-Horvat-Fox line” For speed, I’d prefer Shinkaruk rather than Fox once Shinkaruk has had a couple of months in Utica getting his game back.
      If the Canucks falter, putting this line would give a glimpse of commitment to youth. Hopefully the trio won’t give up bad goals so they can stay together for a few games–it would be exciting to see what the Canucks have for the future.

  • The one thing I do like about the list of prospects so far, mixed with the top 6 to come is defense.

    I believe to many scouts and pundits get caught up in offensive numbers. Look at the litany of offensive forward the Oil have, but with no D and Goaltending they are a non playoff team. Having a grat crop of 2way guys that can play 2nd – 4th line minutes ( since all are prospects) is that they should play in the NHL in some capacity.

    Gillis made some good trades for 2nd /3rd line guys like Higgins but developing those guys and keeping the draft picks makes the team stronger. It’s easier to find a scorer through trade/FA or development, than it is to have a scorer and then try to put a team around them. Washington, Tampa, NYI, ect…. Pitts and Chi are different stories because they were so bad for so long and happened to have generational talent at the top of each draft.

    The Canucks have a deep system now and a team to groom the prospects. One or two of these guys will break out and be a scorer and O believe Jake V has the stuff as well as Shinkaruk! Counting down the days until camp.

    • Mantastic

      “It’s easier to find a scorer through trade/FA or development, than it is to have a scorer and then try to put a team around them. Washington, Tampa, NYI, ect…. Pitts and Chi are different stories because they were so bad for so long and happened to have generational talent at the top of each draft.”

      wow, you really have no idea what you’re talking about do you? everything about your statement is wrong

      • Mantastic

        Sedin, Sedin, Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos, Tavares…

        That’s all trade/FA or development.

        But finding the next Manny Malhotra or Boyd Gordon?

        That’s what seperates the pretenders from the contenders…

        • Peachy

          In all fairness, those aren’t the best examples: the generational talent you named hasn’t been supported by sufficient depth talent for the past couple years to make them contenders.

          Your point is still valid though: the only way to get generational talent is to Draft it or find a GM dumb enough to trade it away. Even the latter generally doesn’t happen for generational talent.

        • I know you’re being sarcastic (and taking a shot at me), but you’re actually right. The difference between a contender and a pretender is having strong contributing 3rd and 4th lines. LA has been proving that for the last few years now. As has Boston. And Chicago.

          Meanwhile it’s been 4 playoffs since anyone on your list has made it to the finals. But, of course, they had a Manny Malholtra-type player when they did so.

      • If you are such a genius, then why has a team like LA won 2 cups in the last 3 years….. Uhhhh having top flight scorers ?.? Wait they actually traded for Marion Gaborik? Wow see how that works??

        You probably don’t because Ovie has had so much success and cups, wait? Taveres in NYI. Edmonton… Hmmm your non argument proves you have no idea what you are talking about.

        Contrarianism replaces logic in people with low IQs… Look up that big word Mantastic

  • “Gaunce has also started the season slowly repeatedly over the years and I’ve begun to wonder if he’s been in the habit of reporting to camp with too much weight on his big frame. The Canucks have reportedly asked top-heavy Bo Horvat to lean out this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gaunce was given similar instructions.”

    What I have heard from prospects camp is that he has gotten leaner and quicker this year. Let’s hope he hasn’t been bulking up for main camp.

  • Shockingly, a guy chosen in the late first round of the draft who had as his calling card being a solid two-way player good on the draw and strong along the boards who needed to work on his skating and quickness is two years out a solid two-way player good on the draw, strong along the boards, who seems to be working on fitness, skating and quickness.

    Gaunce seems to be as advertised. Just because he’s not a generational talent doesn’t mean he’s not a good or useful prospect or that he’s somehow morphed into a fourth-line plumber. Getting unfairly tagged because he was rated too high last year in this list or because he’s been bypassed by higher picks with higher upside doesn’t mean he’s all of a sudden crap. Given where some of our late round picks have ended up I think we should be reasonably excited about his progress. It doesn’t solve the problem of replacing first line talent but it shouldn’t take away from what he will give us.

  • “One other note on Gaunce, he’s extremely smart and well spoken”
    I’ve heard a few interviews with Gaunce and he comes across with a Lindenesque poise, maturity, and thoughtfulness– a dressing room leader.
    From what I’ve read his major liability is speed so I hope he benefits from all the specialized skating coaching the Canucks should be giving him.

    • argoleas

      I believe he may surprise, but should still return to London. Unlike some others, I do believe this team severely underachieved last year, and should play better under the right system. And if I’m badly wrong, then we draft high.

  • asdf

    I may be the minority here but I don’t believe junior is always the better option over fourth line duties in nhl. Horvat has played in three memorial cups, world juniors etc. what does he have left to prove in juniors? If the coach thinks he can play, he should start the season on fourth line. Start on fourth line then move up the roster as season progresses. It’s possible to continue to develop in the nhl with limited minutes. It depends on the player. My two cents.