The Canucks did just that, selecting Brendan Gaunce from the Belleville Bulls of the OHL.
At 6-foot-2 and 215-pounds, Gaunce, is a physical presence on the ice, while also adding an offensive flare to his game, posting 68 points (28-40-68) in 68 games, to go along with 68 penalty minutes last season. (Maybe he should wear number 68?)
Gaunce’s coach and general manager in Belleville is former NHL head coach George Burnett. Burnett won the Calder Cup while coaching the Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL in 1992-93, before coaching the Edmonton Oilers for 35 games in 1994-95. He has been the bench boss in Belleville since 2004, and has coached Gaunce the past two seasons.
Canucks.com caught up with Burnett Saturday morning to discuss Gaunce, the newest member of the Canuck family.
Canucks.com: Coach Burnett, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How special of a day is it when one of your players gets drafted into the NHL?
Burnett: “It’s great for all the teams when one of your young prospects gets drafted, we (Belleville) were fortunate to have two players selected in the first round, and should have a few more taken on Day 2. There is no better recruiting tool or statement for your hockey club when you have kids drafted into the NHL.”
CDC: How would you describe Brendan’s on-ice play?
B: “Brendan is a big, strong, two-way player, good skater and good skills, a guy that competes each and every shift, and wants to play in key situations. He has the determination and desire to want to become a real top pro.”
CDC: Is their a particular play, or moment of his that really stands out to you?
B: “No. I think when I look at Brendan being the 2nd overall pick a couple years ago (OHL Draft), and with our team being in a rebuild mode that particular year, he has really been thrust into a top line role, not necessarily by our doing, but by the way things have fallen. A lot of kids get a chance to come into our league (OHL) and find their way so to speak, and he has been kind of thrown into the fire playing a key role, he kills penalties, plays the powerplay, and takes a regular shift. Most nights over both of his seasons, particularly his rookie season, he played against some of the elite players in the league. I think that has certainly helped his development and I can see him being ready for the NHL probably before he is 20-years-old because of his ability to play at both ends of the rink and his willingness to play the game effectively without the puck.”
CDC: You think he can play in the NHL by the time he is 20-years-old?
B: “When I say that, he has been drafted by an elite team, and a deep, very talented organization. Mr. Gillis has been doing this for a long time, and he will do what is best for Brendan’s development and for the team. If he is ready before the age of 20 it will be because of his ability to play the game without the puck, which is what I think sometimes, separates young kids apart. Lots of kids have great skills, but their ability to play the game without the puck, and their willingness to play the game without the puck is sometimes not there.”
CDC: Who is a player in the NHL that plays a similar style to Brendan?
B: “I would say Jordan Staal is a pretty good comparison. I think there are a lot of similarities having coached against Jordan in Peterborough and having coached Brendan, big, lanky, skilled, good skaters, guys that are strong on faceoffs, and play both ends of the rink.”
CDC: Scouts say his skating is one thing he needs to improve on, would you agree with that?
B: “Well he plays on the big ice in Belleville, which is Olympic-sized, the only one in the OHL, and only one of two in the CHL. In my mind skating has never been an issue; he competes very hard, and as his strength and fitness continue to develop that will help him be become a much better skater. I think those that question his skating are being a little unfair, he certainly is an above-average skater and when you’re as big and young as he is, sometimes it takes a little bit of time for everything to come together. His willingness to compete, get to loose pucks, and desire to play make up for any concerns I would have for lack of quickness. I think those first couple steps are always something you can improve and there is nobody that works any harder then he does.”
CDC: He was the Bulls’ finalist for Academic Player of the Year, so I take it he is a pretty smart guy?
B: “He is a tremendously smart guy; he is very strong in the classroom, very committed student, and a guy that when the time is to be at the rink, that is his number one priority, he is very focused. His older brother (Cameron) is drafted by Colorado, and plays in the Avalanche organization and I think his (Cameron’s) experience in our league has helped Brendan’s development, showing him what to do and how to do it, how to eat, how to train and all those things that are very important for young players these days.”
CDC: He was named assistant captain at the start of last season even though he was one of the younger players, is he just a natural leader?
B: “Absolutely. He brings a lot of leadership qualities, he leads by example, he is not a big talker but when he does have something to say its worth listening to and I think he is the type of guy that makes people around him better. He can see the ice well and also finish his checks, and I think that two-way ability to compete each and every night is extremely important and I think his leadership will shine through when he becomes an NHL player.”
CDC: What is something Canuck fans don’t know about Brendan?
B: “I don’t know if there is something I can put my finger on at the moment, but like I said the Canucks have a tremendous young prospect that they got quite late in the first round. He has had success at every level whether it was minor-midget, World Under-17 Gold Medal, World Under-18 Gold Medal; I think he is the guy that will surface in big games, he is a guy that can be counted on, and he loves the game. I think Canucks fans will appreciate the style he plays, he will pay a price to make a play, and I think as he matures he will be a very effective offensive player, but he will be a real strong two-way player in the NHL for a lot of years.”
CDC: He was a punter for his high school football team, have you seen him punt the ball?
B: “I haven’t, I have only heard about it, but he is a pretty special athlete and anything he decides he wants to do, he will do that well. He is very focused, there are not many kids at age 17 that are as focused on being a pro athlete as him.”
CDC: Finally coach, what is your favorite Brendan Gaunce story?
B: “When I go back to interviewing Brendan for when we selected him 2nd overall in the OHL Draft, I can remember our first meeting. It was a little somewhat reserved and cautious, we made an extra attempt to meet him face-to-face just he and I to sell our program, before we made a commitment. I just think the sincerity and honesty he showed then and has maintained over the first two years of our relationship that I am sure will continue, and how even at a young 16-years-old he was very mature and focused on becoming an NHL caliber top prospect. “