Offensively-Challenged Gaunce is Developing Defensively

There are a lot of Canucks youngsters that garner attention. Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, Nikita Tryamkin, and Troy “The Chosen One” Stecher all come to mind.

One 22-year-old player on the Canucks is receiving next to no attention at all, even though he is one of ten Canucks to suit up for every game this season.

Brendan Gaunce began his NHL career last season, playing 20 games with the team while scoring his first NHL goal against Arizona in his second career game. Since then Gaunce has suited up in 43 NHL games, recording a mere two assists. Maybe it isn’t a surprise that he isn’t receiving any attention.

Gaunce earned his roster spot, regardless of his troubling offensive statistics. He steadily improved down in Utica under the tutelage of Travis Green. He showed versatility in his ability to play either centre or left wing. After putting up 29 points in 74 games during his first season in Utica, Gaunce turned into almost a point-per-game player last year on the farm. Even though he played in the NHL for 20 games, he still finished fourth on the Comets in scoring with 38 points in 46 games.

In limited minutes for the Canucks this season, Gaunce hasn’t shown any offensive ability. However, there are reasons for his lack of offensive success, and he is showing signs of improvement.

Gaunce Showing Defensive Prowess

Throughout his Junior career, Gaunce was hailed as a two-way forward. During his draft year in 2012, many believed that his ceiling in the NHL was a two-way, second-line centre. Unless Gaunce has a major alteration in his game, he will never reach that ceiling. He just doesn’t have the offensive tools to get that done.

However, he is showing signs of defensive improvement in his first full NHL season. The one thing that should be noted is Gaunce’s deployment by Willie Desjardins. Gaunce has the lowest offensive zone start percentage on the entire team at 20.2%, according to Unsurprisingly, he also has the highest defensive zone starts percentage among all Canucks forwards. Although Gaunce isn’t known for his offensive talents, he sure isn’t getting much of a chance to show what he can do at the other end of the ice.

Gaunce does have decent possession statistics through the first 25 games. He’s over the 50% threshold, sitting at a 50.7% shot-attempt differential. That’s not bad for a quasi-rookie, considering that he has played with mediocre linemates for most of the season.

He started off playing on a line with two veterans in Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett. Injuries and other roster adjustments have meant that Gaunce has spent the last stretch of hockey playing with Jack Skille, Jayson Megna, and Michael Chaput. While he could benefit from some veteran experience on his line, playing with these AHL replacement players has meant more time glued to the bench.

Some stats suggest that Gaunce has been unlucky when it comes to scoring. His on-ice shooting percentage is only 3.2%. Part of that is attributed to his deployment and his linemates, but that low scoring rate should creep higher. Gaunce also needs to create more offence for himself in order to change that. He is the only Canucks forward who has averaged less than a shot per game.

Offence Needs to Come

The Canucks aren’t expecting Gaunce to blossom into a 20, or even a 15 goal scorer. What they do need from him is to produce at least a few points here and there. But part of his struggles stem from playing with AHL-calibre linemates such as Skille and Megna. Gaunce isn’t gifted enough offensively to make the players around him better.

However, his AHL track record shows that he is better than the player who has registered two assists in his last 43 games. He was a point per game scorer in the OHL, and almost hit that plateau last year in Utica.

Desjardins’ deployment of Gaunce is hurting his offensive numbers, and it seems like the coach’s patience might be wearing thin with his lack of production. He managed to earn between eight and 11 minutes of playing time over the first 17 games of the season. However, he hasn’t skated for more than 8:25 in his last eight games and saw his ice time dip to a season-low 4:22 in the Canucks’ overtime win versus Colorado.

The Canucks had high hopes for Gaunce when they drafted him in 2012. While the Canucks aren’t expecting the second-line centre that some predicted he would be on draft day, they still want him to be a defensively responsible, bottom-six forward who can chip in with some occasional offence.

Many coaches and players will often say that responsible defensive play leads to offence. Gaunce better hope that’s the case because Desjardins’s patience for him to produce is wearing thin.