Over the past couple of drafts, the Canucks have added quite a few first round picks that look poised to make an impact within the organization. Players like Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen have already made their name, with Brock Boeser and Olli Juolevi joining them in the next couple of years.
Brendan Gaunce was selected in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and is still trying to make his mark on the NHL roster. He’s seen a few players like Horvat and Virtanen selected after him and make the show, but that doesn’t change his mindset. He is focused on himself and what he needs to do to make the team.
“I think I have more confidence in myself going into this year,” Gaunce told Daily Hive. “My goals can be achieved with hard work. Other years might have been more difficult, even if I played well, because the teams were set. But I am happy with where I am right now.”
Gaunce has spent the previous two seasons adapting to the professional game in the AHL. During the 2014-15 season, it was all about figuring out what was needed to take the next step. Last season was about taking what he learned and getting better each day.
Gaunce put up 0.39 points per game during his rookie season in 2014-15, but saw an increase to 0.83 PPG during his second season in Utica last year. That increase in production was a combination of Gaunce learning to do the little things, and the added responsibility of being the first line centre for the Comets.
Due to injuries to the big club and his personal maturation, Gaunce saw 20 games in the NHL last year, scoring his first career goal. He didn’t play every game at centre, flipping between there and left wing. That’s something he has been doing in the AHL for the last two years.
“I feel comfortable playing both now and that’s a good thing,” Gaunce said. “I am not nervous playing one or the other. Whatever one I can do to make the team, I am happy to play.”
Gaunce knows that his opportunity won’t just been given to him. He has to put the work in during the offseason, focusing on improving his speed and cardio.
“Those are two things that you need in pro hockey,” he said. “It’s a long season, so mentally and physically, you try to be fresh every day because you train so hard in the summer.”
The one criticism about Gaunce’s game when he was drafted was that he lacked the two-step quickness and high-end speed to keep up in the NHL. There is no doubt that he improved in those areas over the last couple of seasons.
The Markham, Ontario native will never be a huge point producer in the NHL, but he has high-end hockey IQ. If he continues to do the little things right throughout the preseason, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone to see Gaunce making the Canucks to start the season.