It’s that time of year again… when the bitterness of another bottom five standing turns into optimism towards a potential top five draft pick. Maple Leaf hockey in March. Gotta love it. Let’s start off this year’s MLHS Draft Profile Series with centre Brendan Gaunce of the Belleville Bulls. He’s one of those classic Canadian born, OHL trained two-way centres. Brendan’s well-rounded skillset projects him anywhere between 6th and 12th on draft day.
The Basics: Classic two-way centre for the Belleville Bulls; 27 goals and 37 assists for 64 points in 63 games played.
Strengths: Much of Gaunce’s value comes from his ability to contribute in a variety of ways on the ice. He’s a talented offensive player with good instincts who can both distribute and put the puck in the back of the net. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and is an active player at both ends of the rink. Brendan has a power forward’s build with the potential to grow into a sturdy 6’2 or 6’3 frame as well as the know-how to make the most of it. He’s well coached across the board and should figure into a leadership role at the next level. Those quality heart and soul guys everybody’s always looking for? Here’s one of ‘em. There is little risk with this selection as he figures at worst to be a quality grinder. Brother Cameron is a young defenseman in the Colorado Avalanche organization.
Weaknesses: What sounds like an sexy pick to an NHL coach might not necessarily be the case to the fans. If a team selects Gaunce somewhere toward the top end of the first round, it’ll be because they’re looking for all of those intangibles that are so hard to acquire via other means. The potential downside to a draft position that high is that Brendan’s offensive ceiling and star potential likely doesn’t rival that of the other high ranked skaters on the board. His skating stride is powerful but not ideal and he has difficulty stickhandling and weaving effectively at high speeds. He’s more of a down and dirty, grind along the boards, set up five on five type of player, which certainly holds tremendous value but may not be the kind that hits the scoresheet quite as often.
Draft Day Outlook: Gaunce is one of those players whose draft stock always seems to be in flux leading up to the draft, but invariably ends up going much higher than anticipated. He was a big-time scorer in Midget hockey and was the 2nd overall selection in the OHL Draft, so it may not be wise to disregard his ceiling. He’s been projected as high as 7th overall by ISS to as low as 25th overall by Red Line Report. Ultimately, I think he compares similarly to players like Ryan Johansen, Mark McNeill, Mark Scheifele and Ryan O’Reilly. If I were a betting man, I’d guess some team is going to fall in love with his character and nab him toward the back end of the top ten. He should be ready for the NHL after a year of junior and project as a strong #2 centre down the road.