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Canuck Player Recap: Brendan Gaunce

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His offence is limited, but can he maintain a spot on the Vancouver Canucks roster based on his defensive prowess?

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Brendan Gaunce (50) celebrates with defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) after scoring against Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Anton Forsberg (31) (not pictured) during the third period at Rogers Arena.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Who?

Brendan Gaunce

Born: March 5th, 1994, Sudbury, Ontario

Position: Primarily left wing, also centre

Shoots: Left

Drafted: 26th overall in 2012

It was the most exciting season for Brendan Gaunce to date. Not only did he score a goal, he scored four. Two of them he scored in one game! What a life!

Here’s a look at those shining career numbers from Gaunce.

Brendan Gaunce stats
Hockey Reference
Brendan Gaunce advanced stats
Hockey Reference

What stands out most among Gaunce’s numbers has nothing to do with breaking the goalless drought. Hone in on his defensize zone starts. Gaunce barely sees a lick of action in the offensive zone, with Travis Green solely using him as an defensive specialist. Gaunce‘s 5.35 shifts in the offensive zone every 60 minutes at even-strength was lowest on the Canucks, even below that of Brandon Sutter. At evens, Gaunce was on the ice for 37 offensive zone draws, 153 in the neutral zone and 202 in his own end.

Even though he doesn’t score much, Gaunce’s ability to prevent chances is his on-ice contribution. Sometimes it’s hard to quantify how effective Gaunce is, but the fact that he’s not getting creamed in the goals-for and scoring chances-for department is a testament to his back-checking ability. Gaunce allows 27.91 scoring chances against per 60, tenth-best on the team and just over a scoring chance per 60 behind team-leader Daniel Sedin.

He was a mainstay on the penalty kill as well, but like many Canucks he didn’t shine shorthanded. His scoring chances against at 4-on-5 was worst among Canucks forwards other than Bo Horvat. He also allowed 8.19 goals-against at 4-on-5, which is around Nic Dowd level.

While he does have his strengths on defence, there are still some flaws in his game. His positioning is usually sound, but sometimes he trails the puck carrier with a lack of foot speed.

We know that Gaunce is a defensively responsible player, but let’s look at when he surprised us with some offence.

Finally! Gaunce broke his 94-game goalless drought in the flukiest of ways.

You didn’t think it could get any flukier, did it?

Finally! Some legitimate goals from Gaunce. He can score!

One thing stands out when looking at Gaunce’s goals. On three of the four goals, he started with the puck in the defensive zone. Every goal except the one against Columbus began in his own zone, with Gaunce eventually scoring off the rush. It’s not an easy thing to do, scoring while focusing solely on defence, so kudos to Gaunce for burying a couple even when it wasn’t expected of him.

Room for Brendan Gaunce?

There’s no doubt about it. Even though Gaunce is “veteran” of 114 NHL games, he’s in tough to snag a roster spot heading into next season.

With rookies and other players such as Nikolay Goldobin, Brendan Leipsic, Darren Archibald, Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund, Tyler Motte, Elias Pettersson and even Jonathan Dahlen fighting for roster spots next season, there’s definitely no glaring place for Gaunce in the lineup. That list doesn’t even include some of the locks like Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Loui Eriksson and Sam Gagner.

Gaunce is a natural centreman, but remember it was Travis Green who initially shifted him to the wing in Utica. Even this season, Gaunce played very little centre. His most common linemates during the season were Virtanen and Granlund, along with centres Sutter and Dowd.

Putting Gaunce at centre could make sense in a checking role, but that’s something that Sutter already does (and better than Gaunce, too). The Canucks also can’t afford to have two players who barely score playing centre on two separate lines. That’s a recipe for a low-scoring, boring hockey disaster.

A look at the Canucks two most heavily used players on defence: Brendan Gaunce and Brandon Sutter

Injuries certainly hurt Gaunce this year. He missed two months in February and March before sneaking back into the lineup for a few games. He was also a healthy scratch at points during the season, which shows you that Green certainly isn‘t married to this player.

After 114 games, it feels like “what you see is what you get” with Gaunce at this point. The Canucks might need some defensively-inclined players like Gaunce and Archibald on the roster, especially if they ice a young, fast, and inexperienced team. That still doesn’t guarantee Gaunce a roster spot, but that has to be his calling card with Green when training camp ramps up.

Including Gaunce, I listed 13 wingers above. You can safely assume that the Canucks keep nine wingers on opening night. You would imagine Gaunce gets ahead of guys like Archibald, Motte, and Dahlen. That still means he has to beat out another guy to make the team. It will be a tough challenge for Gaunce and certainly one of the training camp battles to keep an eye on.