Gaunce perfect for role of two-way forward
Belleville Bulls center Brendan Gaunce has a singular focus, and that's to someday play in the NHL.
He does, though, have something of a second career if things don't work -- acting.
"I was in three plays when I was younger," Gaunce told NHL.com, a bit embarrassed. "I like it but I don't think it's my fallback. When I was in Grade 5 we did some Shakespeare play, and when I was in Grade 8 we did 'Hairspray,' and last year as rookies we had to do the 'Mean Girls' dance in front of the school. (Acting) is more nerve-wracking than hockey."
Gaunce shouldn't worry about a need to trade his skates for acting lessons. He seems just fine on the ice -- and scouts certainly seem to have liked what they've seen so far.
"Brendan is a real high-energy guy," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "When he is playing high-energy, when he's battling, when he's getting involved, he's forcing turnovers in the opposition zone. He's got a good skill set that after he wins a puck battle he can make a good pass and set up a play. He creates scoring chances every shift when he's at his best. Every shift he's out there creating things."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound center leads the Bulls with 59 points in 55 games, and is No. 11 on Central Scouting's midterm ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft.
As much as his offensive skills draw attention, it's his well-rounded game that also has earned him the attention of NHL scouts.
"He's a solid two-way guy," Edwards said. "His play doesn't drop off in his own end, that's for sure."
"Interestingly enough, people are questioning his ability to play without the puck, and in my opinion that's what's going to make him an NHL player before any other part of his game," Belleville coach George Burnett told NHL.com. "He's responsible, competes hard, great stick, tenacious, great hockey sense. He understands the game at both ends of the rink. He's a guy that even from his first year (in the OHL), he was often out there against the other team's best players."
Gaunce, who said he tries to model his game after Selke Trophy finalist Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said he takes as much pride in preventing goals as he does in scoring them.
"That's one thing I learned from a young age from a couple coaches," Gaunce said. "If you can't play defense you're not going to play in the NHL."
Also helping Gaunce learn lessons like that has been his older brother, Cameron, a Colorado Avalanche prospect currently playing with the club's AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.
Cameron is four years older, so Brendan has had a great view of his brother as he progressed through the Ontario Hockey League and into his draft year, where he was taken by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft.
"There was two big things I saw from what really helped him over the (draft) year," Brendan said. "One was be yourself, because people are going to find out sooner or later how you actually act, so be yourself in every situation. And be humble. And if you use those two things, it'll work out for you if you're a good player. Hopefully that's working out for me right now. I'm just trying to take everything in and not take anything for granted."
Another thing he learned from his brother was how important it was to focus on the task at hand rather than what NHL scouts might be watching him.
"I think that's one skill you need to learn through the year just because it is such a big year," Gaunce said. "If you're having a rough time, a couple games, people are going to be saying stuff about you that you're not mentally tough or whatever it is. That's a skill you have to learn with all the skills on the ice that you're learning throughout the year."
He got a crash course in learning how to ignore the folks who will be deciding his professional future when he took part in the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in August, where he performed in front of a rink full of NHL scouts and general managers.
They were impressed then and have continued to make Belleville a frequent stop on their tours of the Ontario Hockey League.
"I'd say every time there's a lot of scouts in the building, even if it's two, you get more comfortable with it,” Gaunce said. “You're used to it now. The focus I have going into every game is they're watching you to play your game and not try to impress them in any other way. If you play your game, it'll work out for you."
It's certainly been impressive so far.
"Gaunce is probably one of the more well-rounded players in the draft," Guelph Storm defenseman Matthew Finn, a frequent opponent and a player ranked 15th by NHL Central Scouting, said. "He can exploit you offensively. He's got hidden speed there, a big stride and he can burn you. And in the corners as well, he's a big, strong boy, (he is) big in the corners and tough to play against. He can put pucks in the net when he wants. He also shuts down really well."
"He was the second overall pick (in the 2010 OHL draft) for a reason," added Burnett. "We're not naïve to think we're going to see him for four years. He's going to be a high pick this year and it wouldn't surprise me to see him go early in the first round. And even higher than the draft rating might suggest. I know he's amongst the elite forwards in North America. I think he's also a young man that is able to play at both ends. … He's difficult to play against, and he competes hard at both ends of the rink."
In other words, he's found his perfect role -- future hockey star.