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.
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.