Iain MacIntyre: Gaunce flaunts adaptability in earning Canucks call-up

 

 
 
 
 
Brendan Gaunce in action with the AHL's Utica Comets.
 
 

Brendan Gaunce in action with the AHL's Utica Comets.

Photograph by: UticaComets.com, .

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There was a time during his school years when Brendan Gaunce was at centre stage when he wasn’t at centre ice.

He loved acting. He sang and danced, even played a woman in one school play. He understood roles, learned to adapt his personality to fit his character.

That ability to adapt may get him a National Hockey League career, too — as long as his costume shows up.

Gaunce was with the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, but his equipment — skates, sticks, pads, helmet — was spending an extra day at JFK airport in New York. So the 21-year-old call-up from the Utica Comets did not practise at Rogers Arena, although he is expected to play Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks.

When the Canucks selected Gaunce 26th overall in the first round of the 2012 draft, he was projected to become a big, two-way NHL centre, a guy who would skate on the second or third line and play in key situations. Nearly four years later, he has a chance to play centre or wing as a energy player on the fourth line.

That downgrade in roles does not represent defeat or failure, but survival.

The role Gaunce was pegged for went to Bo Horvat, who was drafted by the Canucks a year later and at age 20 is already near the end of his second NHL season. And as if there wasn’t enough of a crowd in front of Gaunce, the team drafted another centre, Jared McCann, in the first round in 2014 and fast-tracked him to the NHL this season.

Vancouver general manager Jim Benning traded 2011 first-rounder Nicklas Jensen to the New York Rangers on Jan. 8 because the Danish winger was not going to meet expectations as a potential NHL scorer and lacked the game, the Canucks believed, to adapt to a depth role.

Hunter Shinkaruk, the 2013 first-rounder whose trade last week to the Calgary Flames sparked hysteria in Canucks Nation, is a one-dimensional winger Benning felt would be unable to play on a top line in the NHL and unsuitable to play at the bottom of the lineup.

Sometime between the drafting of Horvat and this season, Gaunce could have been jettisoned too, except the kid with stage presence knew the role available to him in pro hockey and adapted. He learned to play the wing, improved his skating and made physicality a consistent component of his game.

Confident and pragmatic, Gaunce had an excellent training camp with the Canucks, looked capable during a two-game NHL cameo in October, and has had a strong season in the American Hockey League, where he has 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games with Utica.

We’re not predicting stardom for him in the NHL. But by adapting, Gaunce has given himself a chance to play.

“A lot of guys say they want to do it, but it’s just too hard,” Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said of changing roles. “They’re upset because they don’t get the role they want; they don’t want to make that change. But Gaunce is a smart player, he’s got good athletic ability and he has a drive to play.

“I think if you asked two years ago if he was going to be a player or not, I didn’t know if he was going to be a player.”

Gaunce was recalled after first-line winger Jannik Hansen suffered a rib injury taking a shot during the morning skate on Tuesday. Emerson Etem was moved up the lineup to replace Hansen in the Canucks’ 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders, and spare defenceman Yannick Weber dressed as the 12th forward.

Gaunce should be the 12th forward against San Jose.

“Most guys have to learn to play a different style of game, and then their points kind of come after that,” Gaunce said. “I just wanted to come into training camp this year and prove that I could play in the NHL. Now it’s just building on that.”

STILL THE SEDINS: A little light cracked through one of the darkest spells in years for the Canucks when Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with backup goalie Jacob Markstrom, were among the first 16 players named by Team Sweden for September’s World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. Vancouver’s injured Danish winger, Jannik Hansen, was named to Team Europe.

The 35-year-old Sedins, who won an Olympic gold medal with Sweden in 2006 and a world championship gold at home in 2013, are having excellent seasons but will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for just the fourth time in 15 years.

“Any time you get picked for (these) kind of teams, you’re excited,” Danny said Wednesday. “We’re happy for ourselves and Marky, for sure.

“I think it still means something, maybe more now than it did before. Now, you never know what’s going to happen year to year. I never take anything for granted. Who knows what’s going to happen next year? Who knows what’s going to happen next week?”

The twins will be lobbying for Canucks teammate Alex Edler to be added to Sweden’s strong defence before the 23-man rosters are finalized in June.

As for the selection of the backup to starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Sweden’s management team agreed with the Canucks’ management team: Markstrom over Eddie Lack.

VEY TO GO: A week after his name appeared on the Canucks GM’s sell list, the untraded Linden Vey scored in Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders and appears to be in the awkward position of finishing the NHL season for a team that doesn’t want him long-term.

“It’s never easy to see stuff like that,” Vey, 24, conceded. “But your job as a pro player is to be able to perform no matter what the circumstances are.

“You look at the guys across from you, the guys sitting beside you — those are the guys you really play for. You can’t control what management wants to do.”

imacintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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Brendan Gaunce in action with the AHL's Utica Comets.
 

Brendan Gaunce in action with the AHL's Utica Comets.

Photograph by: UticaComets.com, .

 
Brendan Gaunce in action with the AHL's Utica Comets.
Vancouver Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce skating during a practice, as part of the NHL Young Stars Classic in Penticton. Gaunce, who was moved from centre to the wing last season, was the Canucks' first-round pick, 26th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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