By Kirk Luedeke
If the Boston Bruins are looking for more power at the forward position for the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, then Brendan Gaunce and Stefan Matteau are legitimate options in Pittsburgh on June 22.
|Brendan Gaunce led the Bulls in goals, assists and points this past season. (Getty Images)|
Neither player is particularly adept at skating, but both Matteau and Gaunce bring NHL bloodlines to the mix, along with toughness, tenacity and the willingness to crash the net and play a two-way game at forward. NHL upside is a bit of a question with both, but no one can deny that they both bring the kinds of physical attributes and intangibles that the B’s value.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the Bruins brought Matteau and Gaunce into Boston recently to do additional interviews and work them out privately before the draft next week.
Gaunce, 18, is a burly center for the Belleville Bulls, stands at nearly 6-foot-2 and a solid 207 pounds, and is coming off point-per-game season in the OHL where he scored 28 goals and 68 points. He is strong in the faceoff dot, can play center or wing and is effective in puck possession.
“Gaunce is a big, skilled forward who is strong down low,” an Ontario-based NHL scout told New England Hockey Journal. “He isn’t a great skater, but is a guy who has the ability to make others around him better.”
The former Markham Waxers midget AAA star (55 goals, 148 points in 86 games) was taken just one spot after current top-five NHL draft candidate Alex Galchenyuk at second overall in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection.
Matteau, also 18, is listed at about 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, and is coming off a season in the USHL with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Although originally committed to the NCAA route with the University of North Dakota, Matteau switched gears and declared for the Blainville-Broisbriand Armada of the QMJHL for the 2012-13 season.
A rugged power forward who has a big shot and plays a hard-nosed style, his skating needs work and he racked up a lot of penalty minutes over the course of the last couple of seasons (140 in just 46 USHL contests).
“Stef is a great kid and fierce competitor,” said U.S. NTDP teammate Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) “He’s a great teammate; someone who you’d love to have on your team.”
Bloodlines factor into both Gaunce’s and Matteau’s appeal as power forwards who bring tenacity and an edge.
The son of former NHL winger Stephane Matteau, the Chicago-born teen was just a few months old when his dad scored one of the biggest goals in New York Rangers history to send his team to the Stanley Cup finals (and an eventual championship) in overtime of the Eastern Conference final series against New Jersey.
Like his father, Matteau doesn’t possess a lot of flash, but he plays a gritty north-south game and can crash the net effectively. In 18 USHL games, he tallied six goals and 10 points. He protects the puck well and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty.
Gaunce is strong in the faceoff dot, has a big shot and possesses the size to assert himself in the corners and in front of the net. His older brother is Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cameron Gaunce, who overcame mediocre skating ability in his draft season to crack the NHL roster.
Gaunce gets good marks from NHL clubs on his fitness and strength, as a product of former NHLer Gary Roberts’ noteworthy Ontario-based pro conditioning program.
As one of head coach George Burnett’s assistant captains on the Bulls, Gaunce also has a solid character and leadership ability to bring to the table with him.
“Brendan Gaunce is a meat-and-potatoes type of player willing to enter the gritty areas and engage in puck battles,” said Brendan Ross, OHL analyst for The Hockey Writers and DobberHockey. “His defensive awareness, positioning on both sides of the puck and faceoff prowess earn him tough minutes as a shutdown option. Offensively, Gaunce plays a power game complemented by above-average passing skills and an ability to unleash a hot wrist in tight quarters.”
Although neither Gaunce nor Matteau are dynamic players who project as a major point-getters at the NHL level, the size and physical package is certain to attract NHL interest.
Matteau’s penchant for taking bad penalties is sure to come into question when final decisions are being made, but Grzelcyk noted that while at times he got a little out of control, he feels Matteau is more disciplined now. Scouts were robbed of a major showcase opportunity for him when he was ruled ineligible for the World Under-18 Championship tourney in a questionable decision by the IIHF. Matteau is a dual-citizen of the USA and Canada and speaks French fluently.
While justifying a top-20 selection on a plodding skater who may or may not possess the pure offensive ability to be a scorer at the highest level could be a chore for scouts, anywhere thereafter is a solid option for taking a flyer on Gaunce or Matteau. Should Boston find themselves out of luck with any of their projected defensemen at the top of their list at 24, both would be the kind of choice that many fans would embrace.
What remains to be seen is how high the club is on Matteau and Gaunce, and whether any of their other desired commodities are on the board when the 24th selection materializes.
“Both of those kids play the kind of style that has become synonymous with the Boston Bruins of late,” said an NHL scout for a Western Conference team. “Matteau and Gaunce bring a little different skill sets to the dance, but they both play hard and are not afraid to take the puck to the net. Put them with the right offensive players, and they could make an impact.”
Don’t be surprised if one or the other becomes a reality for Boston on Friday.