VANCOUVER — Brendan Gaunce is giving Canucks coach Willie Desjardins plenty to think about heading into the regular season.
Gaunce opened the scoring for the Canucks in a 4-3 pre-season loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
He played on the wing alongside centre Bo Horvat and veteran Radim Vrbata on the second line, a sign of Desjardins’ growing confidence in the 21-year-old.
“He’s played well. He’s taken big strides from last year,” said Desjardins. “He skates well. He thinks the game well, which is good and that’s what we want to see.
“I think they did a great job developing him. We’ll keep watching him.”
Gaunce skated hard on a 3-on-2 rush to be at the right place when a hard Vrbata shot bounced off Karri Ramo’s pads and right to his stick in the slot for the tap in.
“It felt great. They make the game easy when you play with guys like them,” Gaunce said of his linemates. “The offensive chances they create are pretty much every shift.”
Gaunce, a centre who had 11 goals and 29 points for the Utica Comets of the AHL last season, is hoping to see more ice time in the remaining four pre-season games. He played wing on Saturday and wants to further his case to the Canucks coaching staff for a spot on the regular-season roster.
“I left it all out there everyday since I’ve been here,” he said.
Josh Jooris scored in a 3-on-3 overtime for the Flames, who won their second straight pre-season game over the Canucks. Calgary won Friday’s game 4-1 at home.
Brandon Bollig scored twice and Markus Granlund had a goal for the Flames (3-2-0) in regulation time.
Bollig’s performance was especially impressive considering he only had a single goal in 62 games for the Flames last season.
“I can tell you that Bolls’ role will not change,” said Calgary head coach Bob Hartley. “But I think his responsibilities will increase. He is in unbelievable shape. He is playing great and he has one of the best wrist shots in the league. It’s no accident right now. And he deserves it.”
Horvat and Alex Friesen scored the other goals for Vancouver (1-2-1), while rookie defenceman Ben Hutton contributed three assists.
“I felt good out there tonight,” said Hutton. “A lot more comfortable than the first two games. Credit to my teammates, I was just giving them the puck and they were finishing it.”
Similar to Friday, Vancouver opened the scoring first when Gaunce tapped in a rebound at 9:55. It was the Canucks’ first even-strength goal of the pre-season.
Bollig tied it when he took a pass from Matt Stajan and lasered the puck through a gap between Ryan Miller and the post.
That Flames duo clicked again in the second. Stajan intercepted a clearing attempt by Miller, then found Bollig, who scored his second.
The Canucks tied it on the power play when Jared McCann, from the face-off circle, dished a nice pass to Horvat.
Minutes after McCann set up Friesen to make it 3-2, Calgary answered back with a net-crashing goal by Granlund with six minutes to play.
The Canucks outshot the Flames 42-24 through three periods.
Notes: Vancouver opens the regular season Oct. 7 against the Flames in Calgary. … Vancouver’s Henrik and Daniel Sedin celebrated their 35th birthday on Saturday.
Jason Keller, The Canadian Press