And that’s exactly what they did.
The Canucks nabbed Brendan Gaunce from the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls -- a player ranked 17th by the Hockey News and slotted 20th in TSN’s final draft rankings.
In his second season in the OHL, the 18-year-old left-handed centre was a point-a-game player registering 20 goals and 68 points along with 68 penalty minutes in the 68 games he suited up for.
“He’s a big strong two-way centre who played for Canada at the Under-18 team and at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last August,” TSN’s draft analyst Bob McKenzie said of Gaunce moments after he was selected.
“The question scouts ask is does he have enough offensive upside to be a guy you consider a top-2 centre in the National Hockey League or is he going to be that grinding, hard-working guy you can play in the three-hole that chips in with some offense here and there? In either case, at this stage of the draft for the Vancouver Canucks to get Gaunce -- we had him at 20 -- he was the highest available player remaining on our list.”
Gaunce has what every NHL team covets and that’s size. He stands 6’ 2” and is already 215 pounds. Those are the measurable statistics for the Markham, Ontario native. What can’t be accurately measured just yet are the intangibles at the next levels, but there are many who believe Gaunce has what it takes to one day be a captain in the National Hockey League.
So perhaps it was fitting that a player who wears number 16 in Belleville – a number Trevor Linden wore in his years as Canucks captain -- was presented with another former captain Stan Smyl’s retired number 12 Canucks jersey when he made his way to the podium after hearing his name called.
“We were very nervous with the previous five picks leading up to this because this is the guy we wanted,” Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis told TSN. “We had a lot of people watch him all season long. He’s got everything that we’re looking for – size, character and the chance to improve. People were coming to us to try to get this pick. We had some opportunities to move it, but we weren’t doing it if he was available.”
Gaunce was there and the Canucks pounced on the opportunity. By making him a first round selection, the Canucks also gave Brendan bragging rights in the Gaunce household after his older brother Cameron was a second round pick (50th overall) by Northwest Division rival Colorado Avalanche in 2008. So the draft process was somewhat familiar for the latest Canucks prospect that’s looking forward to the chance to one day play on Canada’s West Coast.
“The draft is a thing you always watch when you’re a younger kid and to go to a Canadian team is something special,” Brendan Gaunce said. “Being able to get drafted to the NHL is something special in itself, but to go on Friday night [first round] is pretty cool.”
While there may have been some anxious moments wondering if he’d hear his name called before the end of Friday’s proceedings, Gaunce can now relax and focus on the things he needs to do continue to improve. Some scouts believe he needs to address his foot speed to be effective at higher levels of hockey and the Canucks will surely work with Gaunce to develop as a player.
But along with last year’s first round selection Nicklas Jensen, one thing is for sure - Gaunce gives the Canucks’ pipeline plenty of size up front for the years ahead.
“He’s industrious, he’s workmanlike and he’s got a versatility to his game,” says former NHL general manager turned TSN broadcaster Craig Button. “He can play on the left wing as well as playing centre ice. He’s really good on face-offs. As well, in the really big games he played for his country, he played better the more important the games became. If he gets quicker, at that size and with his hockey sense, he could become a top six forward that is really hard to play against.”
That’s the plan the Canucks have for Brendan Gaunce. His years of hard work to this point made him a first round selection in the NHL entry draft. And now the real work begins to one day play for the Vancouver Canucks.