Canucks Army Prospect Profile #6: Brendan Gaunce

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Brendan Gaunce checks in at sixth in our prospect rankings. The former centre turned winger has parlayed his success at a new position into one of his highest rankings yet.

Gaunce, 22, just had his single most productive season in the AHL, reaching new heights offensively. Though Gaunce tallied a respectable 29 points in 74 games as a rookie, that production pales in comparison to last year’s 38 points in 46 games — especially when one considers the difficult circumstances, including a revolving door of linemates and intermittent trips to the NHL.

Those 46 points were good for third on the Comets, tied with Alexandre Grenier and Carter Bancks. If Gaunce were to play more games with the Comets, it’s entirely likely that he leads the team in scoring last season. Perhaps more impressive though is Gaunce’s gaudy 60% Goals For rate with the Comets; that mark would be impressive at any level.

Gaunce, a versatile forward, is best known for his defensive play, which could be a deciding factor in his team-leading estimated time on ice, at just over 20 minutes per game. Strong defensive play is nothing new for Gaunce, though. His newfound ability to hit the scoresheet regularly at the professional level is surely what caught the Canucks eye and earned him an extended look at the end of last season.

That wasn’t Gaunce’s first cup of coffee with the Canucks, though. He appeared in two games with the big club in October, when he recorded his first career goal. It wasn’t until March 18th that Gaunce got his next call-up, though he remained with the club for the remainder of the season. Playing primarily in a fourth line role, Gaunce fared well maintaining respectable scoring chance and shot attempt rates.

The challenge for Gaunce this upcoming season will be finding a way to build upon the offensive progress he made last year in Utica. He’s entering the stage of his career where he needs to prove he can contribute at the NHL level. Heading into training camp, the 2012 first round pick is going to be battling Jake Virtanen, Alexandre Grenier and other forwards for a roster spot.

Based on Gaunce’s play last season with Utica and his cup of coffee with the Canucks, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gaunce start the year with the Canucks as their 13th forward. Should he find himself with the big club, Gaunce is going to need to make the most of his minutes, as he’ll likely be rotating in and out of the Canucks’ bottom six.

If Gaunce does find himself in the AHL, he will likely be one of their most relied upon forwards in all situations. This would allow him to tune up both his offensive and defensive game, as well as continue to show that he can sustain his scoring rates from last year. He will also likely be at the top of the recall list because he is waiver exempt still and has experience in Willie Desjardins’ systems.

When looking at Gaunce’s statistically comparable players through pGPS, 57 of 124 players went on to have successful NHL careers. Of his successful comparables, the average result was that of a third line forward which is really good for Gaunce. His likeliness of succeeding in the NHL will come down to his ability to translate his recent AHL scoring success to the next level. If Gaunce can do that, him becoming a third liner is a reasonable expectation. If he struggles to score at the NHL level, Gaunce could still make it as a fourth-line forward due to his defensive abilities. He also has the benefit of being a former centre, which can provide some backup depth for the Canucks should one of their centres get hurt. 

Gaunce is on the cusp of being an everyday NHL forward. In his limited time at the NHL level, it looked like he could hold his own. Based on his stint in the NHL and his success at the AHL level, there is enough evidence to believe that Gaunce can handle an increased role at the NHL level and that he will hit the scoresheet more as a result. Regardless of where Gaunce starts the season, it is very likely that he will be in a Canucks uniform at some point in the 2016/17 season.

While he will have to prove that last year’s AHL success was not just a one-off, there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful for Gaunce’s ability to become an NHLer moving forward.

  • Gillis was a reacher and a knuckle head when it came to drafting 1st end picks…

    That being said, Gaunce turning to the wing gives him a versatility he didn’t have as a center.

    Defense/Faceoff ability/potential to score = 3rd line wing in the NHL

  • One of his highest rankings yet? Wasn’t he our top-rated prospect a few years ago? And how many points did he get last year, 38 or 46? You can’t tell by the graphic, which cuts off two years ago. C-

  • i like gaunce, and i want to root for him, but from my brief views last year it looks to me like he can’t skate at an nhl level and his footwork especially is not there. i just watched that ahl highlight package and it confirms my concern. every goal and assist occurred when he was standing still or at low speed/gliding and i did not see a burst of speed or move by him contribute or create a play.

    he seems to have the rest of the package to be a 3rd liner anyway, so i hope i’m wrong.

  • I like Gaunce and think he will be a servicable NHL player. It sucks but given his waiver status, he and Jake are better off honing their skills in Utica for the first couple months until injuries strike. That eliminates the beginning of the year pressure and allows the Canucks to evaluate players that aren’t waiver exempt (Grenier, Rodin, etc.).

    • Vanoxy

      Great post.

      Waiver status is huge this year with so many bubble players on the roster.

      Gaunce and Jake should absolutely be in Utica if the roster is healthy to start the year.

      Guys like Granlund, Etem, Rodin, Grenier are on the clock and could be traded or waived if they don’t produce. Having a couple of young, NHL ready studs waiting in the wings should be a good motivator. If not, cut the fat and bring them up. Either way a year of AHL/Injury call-up status won’t hurt their development.

  • wojohowitz

    It was three years ago at a summer prospect camp that Brent Sutter called Gaunce a `borderline` NHLer and it was only a couple of months ago that Travis Green called him `too soft`. Both these comments have and will helped Gaunce improve his game, but what may motivate Gaunce the most is when he looks across the dinner table and sees his brother Cameron who has played in 20 NHL games over the last six seasons.

    I have high hopes for him as I see him being a second or third line center and a go to guy in pressure situations. Everyone limits his upside but I think he will be very solid to the point where I`d like to see him get regular shifts to start the season as a centerman.

  • It’s nice to see Brendan develop so well. Not being able to fill the 2nd line left wing position bodes well for him. With Hudler going to Dallas, it’s slim pickings. So, the best way to fill this vacancy is from within. Burrows and Baertschi take on 2nd and 3rd line duties, leaving 4th to Etem or Gaunce.

    Gaunce probably spends most of this year in Utica, simply due to him not having to clear waivers. But it’s also easy to call him up. Another year and he becomes a full time Canuck.

  • Bob Long

    It would be a mistake for him to be up as the 13th forward and not getting 20 minutes per night – he needs another year in Utica, and bringing him up for the 2017/18 season maybe a little over ripe would be better for his development imo, and we’ll know if he can repeat or improve offensively. Benning has stocked up on a lot of bottom 6 potential guys already.

    • SJ

      It was mentioned: “He will also likely be at the top of the recall list because he is waiver exempt still and has experience in Willie Desjardins’ systems.”

  • Gaunce looked pretty close late last year. He appears poised to be an NHL regular. But would he be eligible for the expansion draft if he plays too many big league games? (I think so) Begs the question that his NHL games might be managed to keep him below that threshold.

      • Bob Long

        It is a combination of pro years and NHL games played. This will be Gaunce’s 3rd year so he will be eligible if he “exceeds 40 games played in the prior year” in the NHL. (The 70 games over 2 years clause will not apply) I assume “prior year” will refer to the 2016-17 season which will just have been completed when the expansion draft takes place.

  • FireScorpion

    I have always seen Gaunce as the guy who could replace Hansen. He’s got the chops imo and if he has a good season and makes the show full time people will be impressed.

    Gaunce is the type of player that can give management options. Options meaning they trade Hansen at the deadline.

    Mr R

    • FireScorpion

      Sorry, disagree. In very generalistic terms, maybe they can be considered “interchangeable” in the sense they’re both defensive assets. But that’s where the similarities end … they’re quite different players, in terms of speed, offensive instinct and even positional capabilities.

    • I don’t see Hansen and Gaunce as anything alike — they are almost polar opposites. Hansen has superior speed and offensive aggressiveness, and does not look out of place in the top two lines. Gaunce’s skating is not exceptional, and he shows little of Hansen’s offensive instincts.

  • Shoestring

    I’ve had my eye on this kid for several years now and he has seemed like a solid third line centre type. Some may feel that may be too lofty a goal for him but he seems to have the size and skill set and now that his skating seems to be greatly improved I’d like to see him get the chance to break through this year (unless you’re the coach’s guy- hello Vey- you don’t get to many kicks at the can at this level). He may only end up as a high level AHL’er or fodder for the european leagues but I’ve always had a good feeling about his game. (I should probably include some stats to back up this assertion but I’ll leave that to the professionals).