Erie Otters get Brendan Gaunce from Belleville; Canucks first-rounder goes from worst to first

The last time a Kris Knoblauch-guided team made a big move for a 19-year-old team captain, it went on to reach the Memorial Cup.

That was in 2010-11, when Knoblauch steered the Kootenay Ice to the WHL title after it pulled off 8-for-1 trade with Swift Current for centre Cody Eakin, who is now an established NHL regular for the Dallas Stars. The circumstances and the league are obviously different for coach and his Erie Otters, but the team which has gone from second-worst in the OHL last season to first overall has paid a big ante to add Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Brendan Gaunce from the rebuilding Belleville Bulls.

To know Gaunce is to come away with a sense of a young athlete who has an above-average amount of self-awareness. That could make him a good fit for the Otters, who need to maintain a balance among their forward corps. There is little doubting the scoring punch of a lineup that boasts 16-year-old wunderkind Connor McDavid, OHL scoring leader Connor Brown (signed last week by the Toronto Maple Leafs) and potent overage and import strikers in André Burakovsky and Dane Fox, respectively.

Erie, though, has lost its past two meetings with powerful London, which might have exposed the need for a two-way centre who can put up points. That might have increased the urgency to add Gaunce; the Otters' release notes that the 19-year-old "shares the puck and understands how to accept responsibility."

Two seconds, two thirds and a roster player in Harper represents a solid return for Belleville coach-GM George Burnett. The cellar-dwelling Bulls, with just 14 points through 25 games, appear to be going nowhere fast this season. However, Harper, whom the Philadelphia Flyers took a look at in September after he passed over in the draft, should have motivation to get a foothold with his new team. Both he and Dallas Stars second-rounder Remi Elie, the other 18-year-old wing Burnett has procured during his sell-off, are reasonably good building blocks for a return to competitiveness in 2014.

Ultimately, this is another portent of the trade-deadline tumult that could ensue over the next 45 days before the Jan. 10 trade deadline. Erie, London and Saginaw have each fortified themselves by adding graduating stars.

The perception might be that the neither the Guelph Storm (.788 point pct.) or Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (.750) have made a major swap, although the Storm got No. 1 goalie Justin Nichols in a swap with the 'Hounds. Erie pulling off the big swap might shift focus to the Storm. Guelph, coincidentally, is at Erie on Thursday when Gaunce would be scheduled to make his Otters debut on U.S. Thanksgiving Day.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to

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