Brendan Gaunce Hitting his Stride With the Canucks Defensively

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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin – USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to take Brendan Gaunce for granted. He’s not the most imposing player physically and doesn’t often impress himself upon the scoresheet either. But make no mistake about it, he’s making his mark.

In a year where development has become something of a taboo talking point around Pat Quinn Way, Gaunce finds himself a staple in the Canucks bottom-six at 22-years-old. He’s had different linemates, played in different roles and at different positions too.

The one constant? He’s helped the Canucks’ suppress opposition offence in each scenario. He’s among the team’s best players in that regard, and the coach is taking notice.

Speaking after practice on Monday, Canucks head Coach Wilie Desjardins let everyone know just how much faith he has in his rookie centre. “[Gaunce] has done it consistently, where he’s been able to keep in [the lineup]. We’ve had guys in and out. Somebody mentioned ‘do we want to bring different guys from Utica’ and right now?’ no, I think Gaunce is doing a good job.”

Gaunce has the fourth best impact on his teammates ability to limit unblocked shot attempts (-3.24 FA60 Rel. Tm) and shot attempts (-6.48 CA60 Rel. Tm) alike. You’d like to see that attention to detail bear itself in Gaunce’s underlying goal metrics, but that hasn’t been the case. The Canucks have yet to score a single goal at even strength with Gaunce on the ice. That goes a long way towards explaining why Gaunce is towing a 0% Goals For.

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What we know about the kind of underlying metrics Gaunce is excelling in, though, is that they’re a better indicator of future goal differential than goals themselves. Luckily for Gaunce, he’s not paying too much attention to these numbers anyway. “It’s a thing in today’s game, yeah. For me, though, just to kind of gain momentum for the team, and whether that’s playing ten minutes or six minutes, it’s having the puck in their end.”

Gaunce continued “Whether it’s getting a draw for the Sedins or drawing a penalty, it’s just things like that that change games for teams. Good teams have four lines they can play and trust, and I think that’s where we’re getting as a line.”

Probably one of the main challenges for Gaunce has been finding his role. The Canucks have shifted Gaunce from centre (where they drafted him) to left wing, before making the switch back to centre in advance of this season. To Gaunce’s credit, he doesn’t seem to mind the shuffle in the slightest. All the same, he sounds content to stick in the middle of the Canucks’ lineup.

“If I’m playing the minutes I’m playing now, I think [I prefer to play] as a centreman. I can win draws, [and] do things that can change the game in limited minutes. As a winger, I feel like I could contribute in a different role. Right now, the way I’m playing, centre is [where] I can contribute [the] most. I feel like it’s where I can change the game the most, because of defensive positioning and winning draws for our team.”

And winning draws is something that’s come naturally to Gaunce. Among Canucks regulars, only Brandon Sutter’s 53% success rate in the circle bests Gaunce’s 51%. Pundits often overstate the importance of face-offs to an extreme. Even the most skeptical among us would gladly concede that you’d rather win more of them than you lose, though. To that exact end, Gaunce has faired admirably.

That kind of proficiency matches the professionalism and confidence Gaunce brings on a day-to-day basis. He’s not short of belief — not in himself. “I knew I could do it. For me, it was just coming in with that same mentality I had at the end of [last] year — that it was my spot to take.” Gaunce told Canucks Army. “I still feel that mentality now, just because it’s early in the year and I haven’t established myself.”

That’s something Desjardins alluded to in his press conference. That complacency can set in, and that it’s his responsibility to help ward it off. Desjardins understands that development is a series of peaks and valleys — not a straight line.

“I think the thing sometimes with young guys — you always have to push them to be better. Sometimes they relax a little bit, and sometimes they may have to come out. It doesn’t mean they’re not doing they’re job. That just sometimes has to happen.”

Desjardins’ comments, public and private alike, seem to be striking a chord with Gaunce. Gaunce remarked “It’s a league [where] if you have an off night, it’s going to show. So I think consistency is a big thing. For me, it was just coming every day and trying to help the team win, in [whatever] way I can. It’s not trying to get out of my element and do things I’m not supposed to do.”

Gaunce’s seen a notable decrease in ice time of late. He played just 5:31 against Arizona last Thursday, then 6:42 against Chicago. Both games went to overtime. Finding ways to help the team in such limited minutes can prove difficult, but Gaunce has been up to the task to date.

If he can keep his footing and continue to limit opposition offence, don’t be surprised if the coach starts sending those numbers skyward. Hell, I’d expect it.

  • Gaunce is quietly going about his business. I like that.

    I thought he was ready and deserved a spot last season. He worked hard in Utica, remained patient, and got his chance. Here he is doing his thing.

  • Killer Marmot

    He played just 5:31 against Arizona last Thursday, then 6:42 against Chicago.

    With the number of call-ups now on the Canucks roster, and with Sutter playing the wing, you would think Gaunce would get more ice time.

  • Steampuck

    Thanks for this. We’ve had plenty of drama to discuss, and Gaunce has kind of flown under the radar. Probably in a good way. He seems to be a pretty balanced guy, not overwrought by the long haul to get to the NHL. Gaunce was one of those “high character” picks from Gillis, wasn’t he? It looks as though he is that. Whatever their ceiling, he and Horvat are turning out reasonably well.

  • KMA

    As Gaunce develops his pro-game he will be smart to use his big body to greater advantage. If Gaunce expects to contribute more to the success of the team he will need to show real progress by the end of this season.

  • TrueBlue

    There are so many fires to put out in Canuckland right now, it’s nice to reflect on some of the pieces that are working out.

    Gaunce is meshing nicely and seems self-aware/self-motivated enough to continue developing into a very useful player.

  • Red Moon Rising

    It’s good to see the kid start getting some notice, especially given the linemate shuffle he has had so far (if Dorsett is the best it gets on your right side you know you’ve got your work cut out for you). Also pleased to see the left wing thing falling by the wayside for now, I’ve been following Gaunce’s trajectory for a few years and have never seen him as anything but a centre (and third line potential at that).

    The one thing that I find troubling is that the better he gets, the better than not chance there is that Vegas takes him and all that developmental time (not to mention fan interest, mine included) is flushed.

    On a related note I’ve never really been a fan of Baertschi’s and am curious just how much more patience this fan base has with his stall in development.

    Does anyone else think that it’s possible that if Baertschi can’t get it going this season that come the draft Gaunce becomes viewed as a better piece to keep than Baer? Or have I mixed up my meds again?

  • DSP

    I really like Gaunce. He is a great utility player who can move in the bottom 9 easy. Almost a younger Hansen. He is still a young guy so let’s hope he takes the Hansen model and watch him continue to grow.

  • RIP

    Really like his character. Compare that to Vrtanans ice time comments and it becomes clear that we may have an issue with Vrtanan. I know he is much younger. 2 years at that point in your life can be huge, but this is the type of mentality you have to have to succeed. It’s that simple.

    • Riley Miner

      Gaunce is one of those guys that just gets it, not all players coming up are mature guys like a Horvat, a Gaunce or a Stecher. Virtanen still needs to learn that growing pains are a part of the game, and sometimes you may not agree with how the coach is using you. Virtanen is also one of those guys that struggles with consistency, he’s very much a stereotypical young power forward in that sense.

      • RIP

        Not agreeing with the ice time is fine. Voicing it to the media at that age with what he has done so far in the season is not. Again a real strong indicator of his character.

    • Dirty30

      Lets not forget that Gaunce has had time in development in the AHL which Virtanen has not had. It’s less that there may be a problem with Jake than he needs this time out of the spotlight to make mistakes and learn from them.

      I hope they leave him in Utica for the rest of the season and let Green work with him. A season of riding the bus and bad meals may also let him decide if he is ready to make a bigger commitment to his career as Gaunce has done.

  • Riley Miner

    The one thing you’ll always notice with Gaunce (even right after he was drafted) he’s a really sharp hockey mind. He knows what his limits are, and he knows how the game should be played in a modern sense. He carries that over onto the ice, he economizes his movement and you always see him in the right spot at the right time, at least in the defensive zone. I expect him to develop more of an offensive game in time; he was a deceptive scorer in Junior and he did it by going to the net, or making smart passing plays. I think he can carry that over once he gets more comfort in the NHL.

  • wojohowitz

    Gaunce seems to realize that winning faceoffs makes him valuable. According to Willie he`s doing a great job and that`s why his icetime is trending down. What`s wrong with this picture.

    • SJ

      I think the mystery of his declining ice time could be solved pretty easily. Look at his linemates. At the beginning of the season his most common linemates were Burrows and Dorsett. The last 10 games they are Chaput and Skille…

  • Copperfinch

    Like everyone else here I really like the kid’s character, but that’s about it. I didn’t like his comment about “doing things I’m not supposed to do”. Smells like he’s already given up on taking chances to generate offence. He isn’t playing much because he does nothing to generate offence. Perhaps he’ll figure it out but I don’t see any indications that he might…no flashes of potential. I like him but I just don’t see him contributing on a contending team.

    Sorry but all this praise for a first rounder who was supposed be a two-way impact player. Somebody has to lay down some criticism. I doubt Boeser gets this much leniency if he is in the same place at 22yrs old.

  • Smyl and Snepsts

    The abuse showered on Virtanen is amazing. Give the kid a break. He could still be in Junior for a couple of years. It take time for big hard hitting power forwards to make their mark. In the NHL there are tons of big men and a young kid, no matter how big and strong he is compared to his peers, will have a tough time making his mark. I still like the pick.