With his clearing of waivers on Saturday, it seems likely that Brendan Gaunce’s NHL career has more-or-less come to an end. Sitting at 114 games in the big league, the former first round pick might seem like a bust, but the numbers paint a different picture. In actuality, Gaunce is a perfectly average representation of the real value of a 26th overall pick.
According to data compiled by TSN’s Scott Cullen, only 64% of the players drafted at 26th overall between 1990 and 2014 have gone on to play in 100 or more NHL games. That means that 36% of players drafted where Gaunce was picked didn’t even make it as far as he did.
Gaunce’s career point totals are certainly lackluster, but Cullen’s data shows that more than 50% of the players drafted at 26th who make the NHL reach a peak status of “4th line or worse.” Only 28% of them go on to play top-six, top-four, or starting roles for any significant period of time. In other words, Gaunce might not be an NHL regular when all is said and done, but neither is the average player drafted at his position.
One doesn’t just have to look at the numbers to see how middle-of-the-road the Gaunce pick was. In the years surrounding Gaunce’s 2012 selection, there were only a couple star players drafted 26th overall, Cory Schneider and Evgeni Kuznetsov, and a handful of other NHL regulars—Brian Boyle, David Perron, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Palmieri, and Shea Theodore.
The rest of the 26th overall club is made up of tweeners like Gaunce and outright busts, an unimpressive list that contains names like Jason Bachashihua, Martin Vagner, Matt Pelech, and Leland Irving. Gaunce had a better NHL career than anyone in this group, but never established himself as an everyday player like the above group, and that puts him firmly in the “average” category. The Gaunce pick could have been better, but it also could have been worse—Brady Skjei and Tanner Pearson went shortly after Gaunce, but so did Henrik Samuelsson and Stefan Matteau 2.0.
In short, the Vancouver Canucks received the most likely outcome from the 26th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Brendan Gaunce wasn’t a steal by any stretch of the imagination, but he also wasn’t much of a disappointment—at least as far as draft history is concerned. It’s something that Canuck fans should keep in mind as the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline approaches and visions of dealing Chris Tanev for first round draft picks dance in their heads. Sometimes, a late first round draft pick sounds a lot better in theory than it does in practice.