Gaunce stays cool after Sutter flaming
‘He’s a ways away from being a pro player’ junior national team coach says of Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce
PENTICTON, B.C. — Brendan Gaunce went to the Canadian national junior camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in early August, the get-together which prepares the national team for the traditional world junior hockey tournament around Christmas time.
Judging by the fact he had four points in two exhibition games on the big international ice surface, you would think Gaunce might have impressed coach Brent Sutter.
You would, however, be thinking wrong.
Turns out Sutter wasn’t entirely thrilled with the Canucks’ 2012 first-round draft pick, even though he actually had to ask Canucks assistant GM Lorne Henning about him as he’d never seen him play before.
This lack of knowledge didn’t seem to stop Sutter from expressing his less-than-flattering opinion on the man the Canucks would love to see take their third-line centre job this year, when the coach was interviewed on the TEAM 1040 by Jeff Paterson on Aug. 16.
“He’s a big guy and he’s a ways away from being a pro player yet,” Sutter said of Gaunce, knowing full well he was talking to a Vancouver audience.
“He’s a very defensive-oriented guy as far as understanding the game. He knows his limits offensively, but he’s a big power forward who’s a decent skater and he’s got some good skills. But I see him more as a third- or fourth-line player in the National Hockey League, more of a power guy.”
Knows his limits offensively? A way from being a pro player? Nice. What would he say to a different audience, or off the record? Can you imagine what invective flattery might ensue?
While we didn’t have the exact quotes at the time to present to Gaunce at the Young Stars tournament, the kid clearly wasn’t overly thrilled with the general tone and direction of the coach’s comments, particularly after he felt he had done pretty well at the brief camp.
“Everyone has their opinions and he is obviously an established coach for the NHL and junior levels, and he knows what he’s talking about. And if that’s his opinion, that’s his opinion, I can’t change that,” said Gaunce, clearly taken back by the remarks but marvellously maintaining his cool, which certainly shows mental restraint.
“I think I’m pretty close. I mean, I want to see at camp and see day to day how I do, but I think I’m pretty close and I think I prepared this summer to be pretty close.
“That’s not something I should probably comment on further because I’m not a coach and I don’t want to comment on someone else’s opinion.”
You have to give the kid an “A” in the class department, knowing no matter what he says, the proof will come on the ice anyway.
“I spoke to Brent and he hadn’t seen him play before,” said Henning. “He knew a lot of those players from the West and he knew a lot of the centremen and they’ve got a lot of centremen there who are first-rounders, so I think he was just being cautious. At the time I talked to him he said, ‘I really don’t know the kid.’ Brendan had some high-end centremen there that he was competing against, so maybe it was just his opinion about whether or not he’d be ready.”
If we’re in the business of covering Sutter’s duff and being fair here, it’s true that Gaunce doesn’t have any pro experience. He’s coming off a terrific junior playoff, which doesn’t count for much when you get to this level, and there have been knocks on the kid about being a little slow getting to the action, given he’s carting around 220 pounds that he’s hardened, training with Gary Roberts the last four summers.
Time will tell. But lest the kid get down on his upside, he would do well to remember those are the exact same things that used to be said about Ryan Kesler. Though with Kesler it wasn’t his skating, but his hands which were apparently found to be so wanting. They said Kesler would never be more than a checking centre. But he took thousands of wrist shots against his garage, improved his shot and essentially became a terrific finisher in the league.
At the moment, Gaunce is starting down the same path, trying to improve his quickness in much the same way Kesler tried to improve his shot. What remains is to see in the short term how he does against a more veteran lineup when he gets to the main camp. And then, in the long term, where he can top out at the peak of his career.
Evidently, Sutter is thinking that top end is more Little Mountain than Mt. Everest. Gaunce, and the Canucks who chose him 26th overall, have a different view.
We’ll see who gets the last laugh.
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