CanucksArmy Prospect Profile 2015: #10 Brendan Gaunce


Brendan Gaunce, the Vancouver Canucks’ first-round pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, isn’t exactly the sexiest name among hockey prospects, but he still represents considerable upside as a play-driving forward that could slide comfortably into a bottom-six role in the NHL in the not-so-distant future. 

Looked at in a vacuum, projecting that much from the bulky center isn’t all that discouraging. Tempered with the reality that his star has fallen from first, to seventh and now tenth in our prospect rankings, it’s more sobering than ever.

Some of the more respected voices in the industry of talent evaluation echo these concerns, with “stagnation” as a recurring theme from their takes on Gaunce. He checks in at tenth in our organizational prospect rankings.

Depending on which hockey scout you ask Gaunce is either a clever playmaker or a lumbering power forward, but what everyone can agree on is his ability to play a 200-foot game. 

Though Gaunce’s defensive instincts and two-way bona fides are well established, this is probably the summer when we stop referring to him as a likely future NHL centreman. Gaunce has now been shifted to the wing at both the OHL level and again in the AHL, and I think we’ve probably seen the last of Gaunce at centre for the foreseeable future. Gaunce has long been criticized for his perceived weakness as a skater, and this generally doesn’t bode well for success as a pivot at the NHL level. 

While many are quick to point to the 14-15 campaign with Utica as another a step back for Gaunce, one might reasonably argue that Gaunce acquitted himself well in making the transition to the professional ranks. It was his first season playing against adults and if that weren’t enough he was switched (again) to left-wing. Then again, my exposure to the Comets was relatively limited, so I figured the wisest thing to do was reach out to the Army’s own, Josh Weissbock, for his take on Gaunce’s season…

[Gaunce] began the 2013-14 season centring the Comets third line (based on ToI estimates), flanked on each side by Carter Bancks and Wacey Hamilton. Part way through the year, they switched him to left-wing.

Expectations had sunk so low from the season prior, I would suggest he exceeded them in the 14-15 campaign. Despite his well rounded two-way game, my estimates suggest he saw a very limited amount of ice-time on the penalty kill; meanwhile he saw regular shifts on the Comets second-unit power play squad. 

This, from a person who has covered the Comets extensively for as long as they’ve been around. 

Weissbock also revealed that Gaunce had been on the ice for eight power play goals in total. Given his five points with the man advantage, that’s an IPP of 62.5%; compared to NHL forwards with 100+ minutes on the man advantage, it places him in the top third. Gaunce also averaged just over 2 shots per game last season, which is a relatively strong number for someone playing their first professional season.

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In total, Gaunce’s raw production made for an 11G, 18A, 29P season. 

Spending most of his age-20 season on a very good AHL team reflects positively in Gaunce’s PCS score. Using PCS, quantitative comparatives to Gaunce last season made the NHL roughly 27% of the time and went on to score 0.36 PPG. Gaunce’s personal Sh% was slightly better than 7%, which is nearly a full two points below league average and because he was buried down the lineup on a very deep Comets team, it’s likely that his shot of carving out an NHL career is undersold somewhat by PCS.

When watching Gaunce his laborious stride sticks out at first glance and makes clear his limitations as an offensive player. His plus positioning and refined hockey IQ make up for this to some extent, though, and make him an apt playmaker in close quarters in and around the crease. His game isn’t necessarily imposing to the point where “power forward” comes to mind, but he’s relatively strong on his feet all the same. 

To reach his ceiling Gaunce will need to continue honing his craft with the Comets next season. Speaking with Weissbock, it seems highly likely that Gaunce will be featured on the second-line, alongside other youngsters like Cole Cassels and Nicklas Jensen. This puts Gaunce in as good a position as any to showcase his offensive abilities, and puts him near the front of the line for call-ups should the big club suffer any injuries. 

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#20 – Evan McEneny

#19 – Nikita Tryamkin

#18 – Dmitri Zhukenov

#17 – Andrey Pedan

#16 – Guillaume Brisebois

#15 – Lukas Jasek

#14 – Ben Hutton

#13 – Jordan Subban

#12 – Thatcher Demko

#11 – Nicklas Jensen

  • Locust

    If Gaunce is 10, does that mean guys like Sven Baertschi and Ronalds Kenins qualify for this list? I would’ve figured Svenny Bae-Days wouldn’t be considered.

    9. Alex Grenier
    8. Hunter Shinkaruk
    7. Ronalds Kenins
    6. Frank Corrado
    5. Sven Baertschi
    4. Brock Boeser
    3. Cole Cassels
    2. Jared McCann
    1. Jake Virtanen

  • argoleas

    He looks to me as the guy who will replace Higgins in the 3L position. I expect him to have some time in the parent club as an injury call up and possibly full-time as early as the season after this.

  • Fred-65

    I have pretty lax criteria for evaluating prospect development. As long as they are making perceptible improvements, I deem their year a success. By this criteria, most of our top prospects had a successful year, with the possible exception of Virtanen.

    Guys like Shinkaruk and Gaunce are a bit tougher to evaluate, because they were just making the big jump from junior to the AHL – in these cases, I mostly evaluate based on first hand accounts (from coaches or fans) rather than statistics. Using this metric, Gaunce was apparently developing well this year, as was Shinkaruk. Both showed apparent improvement throughout the year, which is a good sign. It would appear to me that Gaunce showed more improvement than Shinkaruk and is closer to making the NHL at this point. Whether or not he is ready for the NHL should become apparent by around Christmas.

  • argoleas

    I generally like Brendan Gaunce and hope he succeeds. His character, his complete game and hockey IQ are positives. I wonder about his physicality for a big man and his speed. More and more, today`s game is predicated on speed.

  • Fred-65

    Strikes me that Gaunce is making improvement. Which is good for a firt year Pro. He seems to have a high IQ and doesn’t need telling a things twice. He may not be a star player but a plyer he will be and just makes Vcr bigger and better. What’s not to like. There’s a place on the roster for this youngster.

  • Fred-65

    I’m not sure that Gaunce falling in the rankings has as much to do with his performance as it does with a horrific prospect pool a couple of years ago (Mallet and Sauve were still in there, though obviously Horvat and Shinkaruk were undervalued) and a few years of having high and multiple draft picks in much deeper drafts. I think he did pretty well for a first year pro, including bouncing back from being benched in the playoffs for a game or two. In fact in a couple of the AHL playoff games I watched he was out there in the final minutes, including taking a couple of face-offs and/or insurance when O’Reilly was taking them.

  • Fred-65

    “Lumbering” definitely does not bode well.

    Does anyone have any news or info about Gaunce trying to work on his skating? Maybe along the same lines of what Horvat has done….

    • Fred-65

      He’s not slow. You can see that just by looking at some of his junior highlights that he can turn on the jets. He just sees the game at a much higher level than most his age. As a centre, this lets him sit back and watch the game come to him, something he does quite well. But that won’t be the case against the best players in the world, which is why Green put him on the wing. He wanted Gaunce to learn to get deeper into the zone, forecheck harder and throw some hits.

      Gaunce did everything that was asked of him and made even more improvement than most have credited him with. Green also made it clear that this move was not necessarily the Comets saying that Gaunce couldn’t be an NHL centre, only that this would make him a better centreman. Whether they prefer him at wing and decide to keep him there is not a discussion that has happened yet.

  • Fred-65

    I honestly don’t know about this “lumbering” thing when it comes to Gaunce. Like a few others mentioned he may be mentoring into a 3rd line LW. But I REALLY liked his game last season in the playoffs. Yes he got benched, but bounced right back. The line he was on were a bunch of buzz saws by the end of the playoffs. No they didn’t score much, but they really played a chippy no nonsense game and kept the opposing team in their own zone more often than not. And I watched the ENTIRE Comets playoffs. Take it for what you will, but I like this kid. This year we will really see what he has.

  • Fred-65

    I’m still high on Gaunce. Good hockey IQ, 200 foot game, NHL size and a nose for dirty, greasy goals.

    He had to eat a poop sandwich in Utica last year being relegated to the fourth line and he sucked it up and worked his way up the line-up. I like that kind of player.