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Photo Credit: Jake Roth - USA TODAY Sports

Does Brendan Gaunce Have More to Offer Offensively?

Just over a week ago, the Vancouver Canucks and Brendan Gaunce agreed to a two-year, one-way contract extension valued at $750,000 against the cap annually.

As far as low-risk investments in the future go, the 22-year-old Gaunce seems a reasonable bet. Gaunce’s two-way pedigree and track record of productivity at lower levels of hockey suggest he’s a solid bet to blossom into a productive bottom-six forward. At the moment, though, he’s still in the process of getting to that point.

With Gaunce on the ice, Vancouver controlled the highest ratio of shot attempts at even strength compared to any other qualifying Canuck. He created an environment for sustained offence, and yet, couldn’t convert any of his 51 shots into a single goal over his 57 game season.

Gaunce’s isn’t the first goalless campaign of its kind. There are 234 unique player seasons in which skaters went goalless in 57 or more games with 51 or more shots. Of those 234 skaters, only 48 were forwards.

It’s a veritable who’s who of face-punchers and retreads. For most of them, it was either their last season or the death throes of their fledgeling career. It’s ominous company for Gaunce to keep.

When you cull the herd only to include 22-year-olds, as Gaunce was last season, there are 13 skaters and only two of them are forwards. The other forward, Roman Vopat, played another 54 games and added three assists to his NHL career totals before vanishing from the league entirely.

So, does Gaunce have more to offer the Canucks offensively? Is he the exception? When I spoke to Canucks general manager Jim Benning in Chicago after Gaunce escaped the Expansion Draft unscathed, he seemed to think so. The Canucks are expecting him to find himself in his second full season with the club.

There’s a reasonable case for why they should, too. Gaunce’s anticipation is already at an elite level. If his skating could ever catch up, he’d be a force from the bottom six. I don’t think it unrealistic to suggest a Gaunce that skates at an average level and shoots an average shot can get to 15-plus goals annually.

It’s incredibly difficult for some skaters to improve their stride, though. People point to the likes of Bo Horvat as an example of how easy it is for one to improve their skating, but often forget that he’s the exception and not the rule.

Perhaps ironically, Gaunce separated his shoulder on a play right before the puck landed on his stick with a wide open net in a March 9th game against the New York Islanders — there was his goal, in theory. That injury required off-season surgery to repair, so banking on a better shot seems unreasonable, at least in the short term.

Even with a better shot, Gaunce is going to need to be more selective about where he’s firing from if we’re to expect consistently better results. To call the Canucks toothless when he was on the ice is something of an understatement and his personal shot selection didn’t necessarily help. Among qualifying Canucks’ skaters, only Reid Boucher has fewer individual scoring chances to his credit. It sounds obvious, but he could really benefit from getting to the net.

If the Canucks have designs on getting more from Gaunce, there are things new head coach Travis Green can do to help the situation, too. Last season, only Brandon Sutter started a lower ratio of his shifts in the offensive zone. It wouldn’t hurt to see Gaunce play with more offensively inclined linemates in this season than last, either.

Alternatively, the Canucks might have to accept that Gaunce doesn’t have that much more to offer on the scoresheet. Perhaps holding the team to a draw each shift is enough for Gaunce to earn his keep. I’d like to think there’s room for players of that ilk on every team’s fourth line. That’s more or less what the Canucks did with theirs last year, and that line was the least of their worries.

I’m not ready to bet against Gaunce, so I can hardly blame the Canucks for doubling-down on the utility piece ahead of next season. He can play every forward position and keep his head above water at the very least. There are reasons to expect he might one day thrive in a bottom-six scoring role, too. Then again, maybe not. There’s a precedent here, and it’s not a necessarily good one.

    • Killer Marmot

      A young defensively sound shut-down centre who wins most of his face-offs and plays the penalty kill? Lots of teams would find room for that. I think LV made a mistake, and I’m glad they did.

      • FireGillis

        does “defensive” mean terrible offensively? because I don’t know about you, but I watched every canucks game this season, and every shift that gaunce was on was so mind numbingly boring it made me wish we still had David Booth. And I seemed to remember him playing more wing than center

        • Killer Marmot

          Sometimes boring is good, like when your team has the lead or is on the penalty kill. Gaunce is not a thrill a minute, but it beats the hell out of a player which the coach is terrified to put out on the ice.

          • FireGillis

            But he’s supposed to be a two way guy and to me he hasn’t shown that he’s near ready to crack a legitimate NHL lineup. We also blew way too many leads the last couple years with Willy’s “protect the lead” mentality

          • Killer Marmot

            But he’s supposed to be a two way guy and to me he hasn’t shown that he’s near ready to crack a legitimate NHL lineup.

            I don’t know what he’s supposed to be. I’m only discussing what he is.

            We also blew way too many leads the last couple years with Willy’s “protect the lead” mentality

            Yes the Canucks blew too many leads last year, but I would not lay that at Gaunce’s door. Instead we should look at the guys with a plus/minus of -20, not the guy at -2.

          • Leads were blown because WD put players on the ice who couldn’t suppress shots. Gaunce suppresses shots at a borderline-elite level. That is worth having, whether or not he scores goals.

  • When Gaunce was in junior, he was written off for being slow and not being able to beat a point-per-game pace in his post-draft years. But he proved his critics wrong by improving his skating and generating 1st line point production in Utica when he was given 1st line opportunities.

    The reason why Gaunce couldn’t produce in the NHL is because Desjardins never gave him a chance. He averaged only 9:29 minutes on the 4th line and was on the power play for only 3:48 minutes *for the entire season*. Dobbersports’ Frozen Pool says 62.3% of the time he was playing with Chaput and Skille (5v5).

    Though not aggressive, Gaunce is the biggest forward on the roster at 6’2″ and 216 lbs and that’s solid muscle too. Green relied on Gaunce in Utica and I hope he gives him some scoring wingers, 3rd line TOI and some 2nd unit PP time so he can prove himself.

  • Killer Marmot

    I’m not ready to bet against Gaunce, so I can hardly blame the Canucks for doubling-down on the utility piece ahead of next season

    Given that Gaunce is a capable penalty killer and that the Canucks have traded away their two best penalty-killing forwards, they had almost no choice. Further, fourth-liners who can kill penalties are especially valuable, as it reduces the ice time of the top lines without hurting production.

  • crofton

    I’m somewhat taken aback. The author, the renowned JD Burke, actually wrote an ENTIRE piece without slagging a player OR Canucks’ management! Plus I had to agree with him, their 4th line last year was the least of their worries. Stange, saying that didn’t even leave a bad taste in my mouth, even after waiting several minutes.

      • Dirty30

        And Sutter was bought at a huge cost, given a huge contract and deemed a foundational player for those 17 goals. Oh, as for his intangibles he likes to publicly emasculate his teammates and shift blame to anyone but himself. What a find!

        • Bud Poile

          Huge cost:
          No draft picks lost and the 2nd and 3rd exhanged were only 9 slots difference.
          Clendenning was not a loss.
          Bonino-soft, and slow with silky mitts didn’t overachieve here.
          Bonino scored 15 goals as a Canuck in his full season here.
          Sutter-elite face-off man and very good penalty killer.
          Sutter has a modified contract and can be traded in 2019.
          Fair exchange and not an exorbinant contract .

  • Lemmy Kilmister

    not too worried about his offense #’s besides, he was only a minus 2 in 57 games so its clear he can contribute in other ways at this point. i still remember one season Alex Burrows scoring only 3 goals in 81 games

  • DJ_44

    There is no doubt that Gaunce was snake-bit last year and deserved a few goals. Absolutely no luck. That being said, he may struggle to find a place on the starting roster, and there and the new crop of rookies, specifically the (much maligned) free agent signings from the CHL, will be pushing him.

    As for this analysis:

    There’s a reasonable case for why they should, too. Gaunce’s anticipation is already at an elite level. If his skating could ever catch up, he’d be a force from the bottom six. I don’t think it unrealistic to suggest a Gaunce that skates at an average level and shoots an average shot can get to 15-plus goals annually.

    While I kinda like Gaunce, there is nothing in his game that is at an elite level. 15-plus goals? I would be overjoyed if he ever hits double-digits.

  • WestCoastExpress

    The obvious answer is yes, the rational answer is also yes. Aside from Gaunce’s poor shot selection is there any data on the quality of competition Gaunce most often faced? This could potentially be telling in terms of his poor shot selection. Either way I like what he brings to the team as a young defensive minded bottom six forward

  • Vchiu

    Somebody told Gaunce being defensively responsible is what’s going to let you stay in the NHL. So he did that, and now he gets a chance to earn a bigger paycheque. 200k for being a top AHL scorer or 700k to grind in the NHL?

    • Bud Poile

      750,000 USD’s beats banging nails on a rainy day in December for 60,000 CAD’s.
      The poor kid hhas already surpassed his father’s entire life time of earnings-at 23 !

    • truthseeker

      Yep…
      – Tax
      – NHL escrow
      – Agent fees
      And he’s making about 327 000 dollars. Damn good money it’s true….but hardly “set for life” kind of dough.

      • Bud Poile

        He can save half of that-500k US/650K CAD.
        Same as next year.
        His last contract gave him $1.67m USD’s.
        Should be able to save close to $2m USD/$3m CAD before 25 years of age.
        His father would have been lucky to save $10k CAD each year over 30 years working/supporting a family.
        Never scored an NHL goal and has 10X more money saved than his old man working and slogging it out every day for a LIFE TIME.

        • Bud the Dud

          Oh look, the working class loser serial troll strikes again. Good luck to all these players who are living the dream. Bud’s just bitter and twisted because HE didn’t make any money in his sad life. That’s why he lives on a tiny Island in a tin shack and begrudges anyone who made it.

          Too bad pal, shoulda studied and worked harder instead of snaking off to Thailand looking for ‘cheap thrills’. Pathetic little man.