With the 26th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, the Vancouver Canucks selected Belleville Bulls centre Brendan Gaunce, leading to a frenzy of googling, as Canucks fans tried to decide for themselves whether Mike Gillis should have a statue built in his honour or whether he should be fired. In a kiln.
The answer, of course, is somewhere in between, though preferably further away from the kiln option. Gaunce was a safe pick, a power forward type who was high on nearly every scout’s pre-draft rankings, but it’s impossible to say whether he’ll be a future Hall-of-Famer or an ECHL-bound bust or somewhere in-between. What we can do is try to figure out just who Brendan Gaunce is and why he was picked in the first round by the Canucks.
At 18-years-old, Gaunce led the Belleville Bulls in goals, assists, and, by extension, points during the regular season. His ability to put up points on a poor Bulls team says a lot, as he scored at a point-per-game pace with 68 points in 68 games. Gaunce was voted the third best playmaker in the OHL’s Eastern Conference in a coach’s poll and his 40 assists were 15 more than anyone else on his team, which makes me wonder if he could have improved on his 28 goals with better playmaking from his teammates.
Looking at the release on his wristshot definitely makes me think that Gaunce has great goalscoring potential and a few scouting reports note that his shot is one of the best in the draft. At 6’2″ 215 lbs and with his hands and shot, Gaunce projects as a second line power forward in the NHL. You can see a few examples of his release in this highlight video.
Mike Gillis has now picked a forward in the first round in all 4 drafts since being hired by the Canucks, with 3 of those picks being centres. With the trade of Cody Hodgson and the slow development of Jordan Schroeder, the Canucks had a dearth of depth at centre and the selection of Gaunce is a step towards addressing that issue.
“We were very nervous with the previous 5 picks leading up to this,” said Gillis, “Because this is the guy we really wanted. We had a lot of people watching him all season long. He has everything we were looking for: size, character, and the opportunity to continue to improve.”
One way that he will look to improve is by training with Gary Roberts. The training has already begun to pay off in terms of his strength and conditioning, as Gaunce finished in the top-10 in 12 of the fitness tests at the NHL Combine, including a first place finish in one of the four leg power tests. The one area of Gaunce’s game that scouts agree needs work is his skating, specifically his initial acceleration and mobility, so the hope is that Gaunce can translate that leg strength into more explosive power in his skating.
Still, despite the scouting reports, when Gaunce participated in skating tests prior to the CHL Top Prospects game, he reportedly finished first in several of the tests.
Gaunce is already mature beyond his years, with many scouts suggesting that he has potential as a future captain in the NHL. He also knows how to handle media attention, an important factor for playing in a fishbowl environment like Vancouver. When asked about dealing with the media at the NHL Combine, he said, “I think with interviews, you control the interview. I know they all ask you different questions, I think you can control your answers and sway the interview the way you want.”
Brendan Ross of The Hockey Writers called Gaunce “the top heart-and-soul player of this draft class” and praised his work ethic, willingness to enter the gritty areas, and his defensive awareness. Several scouts also note his intelligence and hockey sense, as well as his ability to do all the “little things” well, including winning faceoffs and puck battles.
Instead of racking up points, Gaunce focusses on helping his team win. “I think our coach [George Burnett] put it into our head right from the first day of training camp that it doesn’t really matter if you get 100 points in one year and your team only gets 60,” he told Yahoo Sports near the beginning of the season. “People are going to look back and ask, ‘Why didn’t you help the team a little bit more?’ There’s added pressure in my draft year, but I think we need to look at contributing to the team first.”
That kind of attitude will win him a lot of fans in Vancouver, as will his choice of number with Belleville: 16. It also helps that he’s on Twitter, which wins some favour from us. Pro-tip, Brendan: follow strombone1.
Speaking of the supposed Roberto Luongo Twitter account, he poked a bit of fun at the Calgary Flames for going off-the-board to pick Mark Jankowski, saying “Did the Flames just draft a kicker in the first round? #badfantasyfootballstrategy” because of the similar name to Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Oddly enough, the Canucks did exactly that, as Gaunce served as the punter for his high school football team. Awkward. Now the Canucks will have to trade Luongo.
With his size, Gaunce might also be expected to participate in the rough stuff, and he did have 4 fights last season with the Bulls. Of note, two of his four fights came after the opposing player took charging penalties for dangerous hits, so he is clearly willing to step up in defence of his teammates.
Finally, it’s become clear over the past four drafts that Gillis does not take risks in the first round. Each of his picks has been highly ranked by Central Scouting, International Scouting Services, and other draft rankings from around the league. Gaunce was ranked 21st overall according to Derek Zona’s Consensus Top 100, which collates various draft rankings and weights them according to past accuracy. ISS had him at 11th overall, Central Scouting ranked him 13th among North American skaters, and The Hockey News ranked him 17th overall.
At TSN, Bob McKenzie had Gaunce 20th overall in his ranking, while Craig Button was one of the few dissenting voices, ranking him all the way down at 38th overall. The one supposed “objective” ranking comes from HFBoards member Mathletic, whose ranking by Win Shares had Gaunce at 28th overall back in February, 15th amongst forwards.
Overall, Gaunce is a safe, smart pick that shows Gillis swinging for contact rather than for the fences.Tags: Brendan Gaunce, NHL draft, Prospects