After long years spent marinating in the Canucks’ system, Brendan Gaunce rewarded the team’s patience with a breakthrough campaign.
The versatile 22-year-old utility forward set a career high in games played (57) and assists (five) before a torn shoulder labrum ended his season right as he was about to tie a career high in goals.
There Gaunce was with a yawning New York Islanders’ cage and nothing to stop him from putting the puck inside it, save for the hindrance of his separated shoulder. With but one good arm, Gaunce sent a fluttering puck wide and hobbled to the bench. And that’s effectively how his season ended — goalless.
Among the list of skaters to play 500 or more minutes in all situations, Gaunce is the only skater to finish the season without a single goal to his credit. According to Daily Hive’s Rob Williams, Gaunce finished just one game shy of Alex Stojanov’s record for most games in a season without a goal by a forward. No matter how you slice it, that’s a bad look.
I think we’d all agree though that the Canucks can live with a fourth-liner who doesn’t score, so long as the opposition isn’t scoring much when they’re on the ice either. And to that exact end, Gaunce did his job admirably. Among Canucks regulars, only Jack Skille and Jayson Megna (weird, right?) contributed more than Gaunce to their linemates ability to suppress opposition goals — though Gaunce did it with a lower on-ice save percentage.
When one looks into Gaunce’s contributions to underlying shot, shot attempt and unblocked shot attempt metrics, it becomes increasingly clear that his team’s goal suppression with him on the ice isn’t by accident, either. Gaunce is third among Canucks in impacting linemates’ shot suppression per hour, second in impacting linemates’ unblocked shot attempt suppression and second in impacting linemates’ ability shot attempt suppression. Whatever shots the opposition attempts, they’re usually from low danger areas too.
The Canucks really couldn’t have asked for more from Gaunce as a fourth line centre. It would be nice if he chipped in with the odd goal, but the sum of his contributions was largely positive when he was on the ice. Whether Gaunce scored or not, the Canucks usually left in the black.
When Gaunce was playing with Michael Chaput and Jack Skille, they left in the black significantly. One could reasonably argue they were one of the best fourth lines in the league. They controlled 58% of shot attempts and 66.7% of goals together at five-on-five.
The primary concern now is that by leaving Gaunce exposed to the Expansion Draft, the Canucks could lose him before he realizes whatever semblance of offensive potential he may or may not have. Ideally, you’d like to see what Gaunce can do in a year with Travis Green as his head coach in the NHL before risking that, but the Canucks didn’t see it that way.