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Roster Down The Road: The 1st Pair

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to say as a resident of British Columbia that we saw blue sky this past week. So while I celebrate breathing fresh air, Canuck fans continue to eagerly await the arrival of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and other notable prospects in the Vancouver system.

With this current group of future prospects and current young players, I wondered if the Canucks could build a contender from within. Going through the system, I came to the realization it’s entirely possible. I’ve come up with a roster of young players that the Canucks could see in their lineup by 2022-2023 (When the Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel contracts expire).

For this exercise, we will only be using players already in the Canucks system, and we won’t be contemplating any new young players the Canucks could potentially draft (Sorry Jack Hughes). Finally, we’re going to use the Sporting News prospect ranking. We’ve touched on the goaltenders, gone over the wildcard defensemen, and looked at the bottom two pairs. Today, we dive into the top pair for the Canucks in 2022-2023.

2022-2023 ROSTER (PROGRESS)

Left Wing 1 – Center 1 – Right Wing 1
Left Wing 2 – Center 2 – Right Wing 2

Left Wing 3 – Center 3 – Right Wing 3
Left Wing 4 – Center 4 – Right Wing 4

Wildcard F 1


Left Defense 1 – Right Defense 1
Olli Juolevi – Nikita Tryamkin
Jack Rathbone – Jalen Chatfield

Toni Utunen  – Matt Brassard

 

Thatcher Demko

Michael DiPietro

 

The Top Pair

#1 Right Defenseman

Jett Woo

Image: MARC SMITH / DISCOVER MOOSE JAW

Last week we started on the left side, so we’re starting on the right side today. Jett Woo might have one of the best names in hockey, and he’s the top right side defense prospect in the Vancouver Canucks system at the time this article is being written. Woo was taken in the 2nd round in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft with pick 37. The 18-year-old right shot defenseman possesses size, speed, and physicality to go along with an underrated offensive toolkit which he put on display in the first half of last year. Woo was on pace to be a mid to late 1st round pick this year before a shoulder injury slightly derailed his campaign, but that might be a blessing in disguise for the Canucks as they are quite pleased (as they should be) with Jett falling as far as he did. Jett Woo cracks the top 10 of the Sporting News Canuck’s prospect rankings, coming in at number 10 on the list. Down below are Woo’s stats and a highlight video showcasing one of our newest defense prospects.

(Jett Woo’s Stats from his age 15 season courtesy of eliteprospects.com)

(Jett Woo 2017-2018 highlights courtesy of the Youtube channel “VinzyHighlights”)

 

Starting with a quick rundown through Woo’s statistical development, it was clear he was ready to make the jump to the WHL in his final year in the MMHL, scoring over a PPG as a D man, which in prior articles I’ve claimed is a fantastic accomplishment for any level. Woo would jump into his first full year in the WHL at the age of 16 with the Moose Jaw Warriors, having an excellent season for a 16-year-old, while playing in a couple of tournaments for Canada’s national junior teams (U17 & U18). This past year, of course, was his draft year, and Woo started the season red hot before his injury. Our new site editor Ryan Biech went into great detail leading up to this year’s draft and had this to say about Woo’s offense.

 

“…Those expectations were exasperated by Woo’s strong start to the season that saw him post close to a point per game pace. He suffered a shoulder injury that saw him miss a month of action and upon his return, he was asked to play a different role.”

 

Woo would lose some of his offensive opportunities as Josh Brook and Kale Clague were brought in throughout the season. This doesn’t diminish the ability Woo has in the O-zone. We can see his ability to move the puck across the ice, and good decision making to utilize his sneaky wrist shot. Now let’s not kid ourselves, Woo’s skating and defensive prowess are going to be his calling cards on this pair. However, top pair defensemen need to be able to excel at certain aspects, while doing a little bit of everything and Jett Woo is up to the task. Also, fans are going to love seeing Woo deck opponents like down below.

(Another Woo highlight package, this one of his performance against the USA at the Summer Showcase in Kamloops earlier this summer. Youtube channel “ihaveyuidonttouchme”. The big hit is at 4:52 of the video)

 

Now, as we move forward with Woo’s development, the most important thing for Woo next season in the WHL is to keep himself healthy. As stated earlier, he was on pace for a PPG as a D man before a shoulder injury limited himself for the remainder of his draft year. If Woo can keep himself healthy we might see him tap into that potential that many thought would make him a 1st round draft pick. Ideally, Woo will dominate this upcoming year with the Warriors as an 18-year-old and potentially try to force his way onto the roster by 2019-2020. If he can’t make the NHL by then, he’ll spend one last year in the WHL before moving to the AHL for 2020-2021, getting a year of pro hockey under his belt before cracking the Canucks at the end of that season. By 2022-2023, Woo will have 1 full year on the Canucks blue line, and will rightfully take his spot on the top pair with the best defense prospect the Canucks have ever had for the following years to come.

 

#1 Left Defenseman

Quinn Hughes

Imgae: RENA LAVERTY

Quinn Hughes might be the most electric defense prospect the Vancouver Canucks have ever had in their franchise history. One of the best skaters on the planet, Hughes fell to #7 for the Canucks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and Jim Benning sprinted to the podium to select him. This seems like fate, as Hughes is going to get his wish to play in a hockey-crazed market, while the Canucks get the power play quarterback that is becoming so essential in today’s NHL. Quinn Hughes is a transition machine, has excellent passing, can skate his way out of trouble, and is so dynamic in the offensive zone that he’ll bring fans to their seats by just creating space to make the plays that’ll lead to goals. Hughes is the number 2 ranked prospect on the Sporting News Canucks prospect list, behind only Elias Pettersson. Down below will be Quinn Hughes stats and a highlight video you’ve probably seen before, but I hope you watch it again because Hughes really is something special.

(Quinn Hughes stats starting with his first year with the USNTDP Junior Team of the USHL, courtesy of eliteprospects.com)

(Quinn Hughes highlights from the WJSS from Kamloops this summer, courtesy of the YouTube channel “Hockey Prospects Center”)

 

I don’t feel you as fans need to hear me repeat the same dialect over and over, but I can’t help it. Quinn Hughes is incredible. We’ll start with the statistics, and from his age 16 season to his age 17 season, we see such a huge jump in USHL production. Going from a .32 PPG to a full point per game pace the following year. Quinn Hughes is a true student of the game, but he’s also incredibly self-aware. A quote from Hughes I’m going to highlight is down below.

 

“Being more comfortable and doing what you are good at which is sticking with your strengths,” he explained. “That really helps you to become more comfortable and let the game slow down.” (Courtesy of this article: https://www.usahockeyntdp.com/news_article/show/748836)

 

There are so many other quotes that Quinn has said that proves he knows what to do in order to become a true number one defenseman. It’s also an incredible show of confidence in himself. Then when you watch the highlights, you can visually see how confident he is. His drives to the net, and his ability to turn on a dime to open up a new lane to break the puck out. Someone who has watched Hughes grow first hand is his former coach John Wroblewski, and he’s got high praise for the Michigan native.

 

“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” Wroblewski said. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.” (Quote courtesy of this article: http://www.sportingnews.com/us/nhl/news/nhl-draft-2018-quinn-hughes-highlights-projected-position-world-championship-performance-usa-ntdp/z75dnus48r4g1gfsgqzv3rpl5)

 

Yes, Hughes does have that kind of potential, not much else to it.

 

Now, moving forward to Hughes’ development, it’s pretty simple. Quinn will go back to the University of Michigan for this season, dominate the NCAA and potentially win the Hobey Baker. After his season with Michigan, depending on how far the school goes will determine when he jumps into the Canuck lineup. If Michigan is eliminated in March, Hughes will play at the end of this year, if Michigan’s season goes longer than the Canucks, then he’ll be in the lineup come the beginning of October 2019. Once Hughes gets in the lineup, he’ll be quarterbacking a power play and logging huge minutes on the Canucks blue line. Hughes will instantly become one of, if not the Canucks best defenseman for years to come, and by 2022-2023 will be on the top power-play unit and will be the first Norris trophy candidate in Canucks history.

 

As for the top pair, it truly is something to be excited about. Quinn Hughes has the potential to be a true #1 D man, leading the breakout, and quarterbacking a power play. Jett Woo’s defensive strengths, his size, and his ability to move for a bigger player will help cover up the few weaknesses of Hughes’ game (lack of size, which may hinder him winning net-front battles or the battles in the corners). I know Hughes stick game and hockey IQ will, in turn, contribute to a strong defensive presence, but with Woo taking a lot of the more physical battles, it’ll allow Hughes to truly recognize his defensive roamer playstyle in his own end. It’s a truly complete pairing and one that Canuck fans should happily anticipate seeing in the near future.

 

So, we’ve gone through my defense core for the 2022-2023 season, but before we move onto the forwards I’m going to touch on which power play/penalty kill unit each defenseman in my top six will play. However, I don’t want to just tell you guys what I think; let me know what you guys are thinking. I want to see your 2022-2023 defense cores. It could be the same, it could feature some guys on the current roster or some of the other defense prospects I haven’t featured in this series. Again, the only rules are that you can’t bring in someone from another organization or future drafts (looking at the current prospect pool). In addition, just remember that in 4 years time, certain players may be better or worse than where they are now. Thanks to everyone who has read the series up until this point! It’s been a blast.

  • Defenceman Factory

    These are fun articles. Thanks Cole.

    I like Woo and he looks pretty big hitting 175 lb kids in junior but at 6′ 205 is he even average size for an NHL defencemen?

    • At the moment, no. However, he’s not done filling out. Woo could be 220-230 by the time he’s in the NHL. With a lower center of gravity and increased strength, he should go through some opposing forwards.

    • It’s no disrespect to Stecher, but I have him below Chatfield and Tryamkin. Tryamkin isn’t just a huge body, but quite a strong Dman in his own right without the size gimmick. Plus, although the NHL is moving more towards skill, I personally don’t feel comfortable putting 2 guys below 6 feet on my bottom pair, and I believe Chatfield and Stecher will bring similar skillsets to the table. Stecher is probably better than Brassard, but if Brassard taps into his potential I mentioned in my wildcard article, he’d bring more to the table than Stecher has.

      With all of that being said, if Stecher goes and puts up 25+ points this year while still remaining a key cog on the penalty kill, then I’d have no choice but to keep him on the main roster. With last year’s regression and Woo, Tryamkin, and Chatfield being the defensive specialists on their respective pairs; Stecher would have to outproduce Rathbone and Hughes or be better than Juolevi in the transition game. I don’t see either of those situations happening as of last year. Stecher’s regression has me concerned he’ll become more like Ben Hutton.

      • Doodly Doot

        Cole, I’m thinking that the Tryamkin dream is likely over. I keep reading about a possible lockout in 2020. That would be the first season he’s available, at the age of 26. Plausible best case scenario is that we get him at 27 after a lockout. I might be wrong but I think will lose his rights by then and he will go elsewhere, IF he comes to the NHL. Big question mark for the Big man.

        • Tryamkin dream won’t be dead until the Canucks lose his rights in 2022. Seeing other Russian players come back to their respective teams after playing in the KHL, plus Tryamkin’s change in tone towards being open to coming back adds fuel to the fire.

          He is by far the biggest wildcard, changes the whole look of the Canucks future defense if he comes back.

      • The_Blueline

        There was a recent article (cannot remember where) suggesting that Stecher’s last season was better than hi rookie year. Not by points but by underlying data, in particular zone entries (and avoidance thereof where I think he was no. 3 in the league).
        I think you undervalue him. Still, nice piece!

  • Rodeobill

    I think Woo deserves more chatter than he gets, but understandably so with all the good prospects we have right now. If it were 2011, he would probably be one of our hottest topics, lol.

    I wonder if you had to give up one and keep one of EP and QH, which one do you keep? The generational norris potential of QH that is so sorely needed in our system, or the best forward prospect to ever come out of the SHL?

  • Doodly Doot

    I think Woo is most likely bottom 4d. Almost certainly NOT a top pair guy. I guess we’ll have to see how he continues to develop over the next couple years. I like the idea of well developed Juolevi and Woo as a 2nd pair. I’m keen to see a couple super mobile D like Stecher and Hughes on a top pair. Too small? Will we be thinking that in a few years? If they have the puck all the time, and they’re feeding our top lines, that may be redundant. If Hughes is going to be jumping up in the rush, and we know he will be often, you need someone skilled, smart, tenacious and comfortable walking the line. Stecher.

    • Defenceman Factory

      I agree Woo is not likely a top pair Dman and I also share your opinion of Stecher but I think there will always be a need for some size on D. There are just too many net front and corner battles to be outweighed in every one

      Given Cole’s premise of only using players currently in the system I agree with his desire to put some size in the line-up. Stecher has a fabulous work ethic so it seems unlikely Chatfield will surpass him.

      Tryamkin isn’t coming back so another high end right D is needed.

      • Puck Viking

        Multiple high end D is needed. The right side is nothing but question marks at this stage. The unfortunate thing is that there is nothing coming in this draft in the top 10. So you either have to acquire a top RHD prospect via trade(tanev, edler, sven or sutter) or draft very heavy in the upcoming draft after our top pick which will be top 5.

    • So I made a point of it earlier, but the idea of having 2 defensemen under 6 feet on a pair still scares me. Even with the emphasis on moving the puck and skating, a defense core will still need some size or they’ll get burned in their own end. Having 2 rover style defensemen in Stecher and Hughes would be great on offence (ideally) but net front battles and getting the puck back could be a challenge. While Woo doesn’t look like he’ll become a true top pair guy, he’ll hopefully develop to a good 3-4 and have the necessary skills to compliment Hughes. If anything Stecher would be a perfect compliment to Juolevi.

      • Doodly Doot

        I get that having 2 smaller D on a line seems a typical, but I watched Stecher in Penticton win a crazy amount of puck battles against bigger guys just outworking them. I agree that Stecher might be a perfect compliment to Juolevi down the road. It makes perfect sense. But I also think that where we’re likely to really need that size is on the 2nd pair going up against the other team’s top lines. Super fun discussion Cole!

      • argoleas

        Very likely Canucks will not have a true #1 RHD in the system, unless Woo shocks us in the next few seasons. Likely, #canucks would need to pilfer one from someone, and that’s effing very hard. One opportunity may be Trouba next off-season if he once again goes into arbitration or Jets go with extending Myers.

        But with Hughes being potentially sooooo damn good, Canucks may be able to get away with his D partner being a good complementary piece without having first D pair pedigree. In that respect, Tanev, Woo, Tryamkin, maybe even Chatfield could serve that role.

        • Defenceman Factory

          You are probably right the Canucks may not be able to get a true #1 right D but they at least need another potential top 4 guy. Unless they acquire more picks it’s unlikely they draft one next year.

          This would be an interesting article. What young RD are out there, what would it take to trade for one based on the other team’s needs and how feasible is a deal. Trouba could sure be a target, Carlo out of Boston, Dobson from the NYI, Bear off the Oilers, Fabbro from the preds, Foote from Tampa. With Chicago taking Boqvist last draft and needing help in a few places maybe Raddish or Jokiharju could be had.

          • argoleas

            An article is a fantastic idea. You cite good options, especially on some teams that may have a surplus and cap issues. This is where a deep prospect pool comes into play. That is how a Columbus and Nashville could afford to trade a Johansen for a Jones.

            So yes, more picks indeed, and maybe that will start this year with trades of such vets like Edler, Tanev, and Sutter. I was kind of hoping Benning would snag one of Islanders’ 2018 picks. Dobson was so available. Would have solved that problem right there. Alas, will have to look to the future.

          • argoleas

            A bit of hyperbole on my part 😉

            IMO I do not believe Tanev should be here past his current contract (or the current season), but I certainly see Benning making a different call.

  • Burnabybob

    Nice work on this series.

    My gut feeling is that much of the Canucks’ defensive corps of the has not yet been drafted, especially on the right-hand side. (I’m not convinced that Tryamkin will ever wear blue and green again.) Hopefully they can address that area of relative weakness in this year’s draft and next. Byram and Broberg both look like intriguing prospects for the Canucks this year, and though both are left-handed, from what I can tell both play on the right side at least part of the time.

    I would be interested in a CA article that analyzes the importance of right or left handedness in playing either defensive side.

    • Puck Viking

      Id like to see an article with options for RHD in multiple rounds, I know its early but why not..
      1. Honka – ranking 10-20, Soderstrom – ranking 20-30
      2. Korczak 30-40, Helleson 30-40
      3. Etc..

      You could also do who you think would be best for us in the top 5 position wise and best player available.

  • Killer Marmot

    I think this is optimistic regarding Woo. If, however, the Canucks were able to pick up their future first-pairing defensemen then it was a very good draft for them.

    • Puck Viking

      If you look at the mock drafts prior to his shoulder injury and the addition of Clague, woo was generally in everyones top 20 for the draft. This year as long as he is healthy will go a long way in determining what he is exactly.

      • This is definitely an optimistic outlook on Jett Woo, but he’s the best RHD prospect in our system right now. If he becomes a guy who’s probably best suited on the 2nd pair, but can hold his own with Hughes on the top pair (Sort of like how Hutton is excellent when paired with Chris Tanev, but awful away from him, another ex. would be Brodie with Giordano) then it could work.

        • Puck Viking

          I am someone who would like to have a killer top 4 defense and top 3 centers. To me this team is a long ways off from that. But if you can have 5 good but not great defensemen who can all play good defense and transition the puck then thats okay too as you have Hughes as your top point producer.

  • east coast canuck

    appreciate the effort put into this series but the bottom line is a team as bad as the canucks cannot and will not be icing many of the projected players in this series in two years let alone four so i find it rather pointless, a bit like talking about making the playoffs with the same goalies n defense as last season.

    • You’re correct in saying that the Canucks won’t be making the playoffs with players on the currently constructed roster. However, this series is focusing on all the younger players that fans are banking will in fact make the team. I don’t expect the Canucks to make the playoffs with this current defense and goaltending tandem. I do see the team making the playoffs with Demko in net and Hughes running the defense with a better supporting cast on the blue line, along with all the forwards I haven’t talked about yet.

      • Puck Viking

        Dont forget about the top 5 pick in this upcoming draft and probable top 10 in the draft after.

        If you add a Hughes or Cozens in this draft and a Alexis Lafrenière or Quinton Byfield in the next plus all the additional players that are drafted.. I am pretty sure they will be making the playoffs in 4 years plus nearing challenging for a cup.

        • east coast canuck

          yes, it would make way more sense looking at the next few drafts and adding these to the mix than making wild assumptions about tryamkin, brisbois, stecher et al. its a little too fantasy hockey for me tbh.

          • Puck Viking

            All you can do is make assumptions. Id rather read this article on assumptions than nothing at all. Tryamkin will be back, Brisebois will never make the NHL and Stetcher will hopefully continue improving.

  • 51Geezer

    Good series.
    And, don’t we Canucks fans need some optimism? I, too, am optimistic about Tryamkin and I fervently hope there are negotiations in progress now.

  • Holmes

    Jett is not a big player. 6 bills is on the smallish side for a D man. He probably plays at 215 lbs, 6 ft, so not a shrimp. But by no means a big player, relatively speaking. He plays big for sure. But if the thesis is a Keith/Seabrook or Karlson/Methot pairing, it doesn’t really line up in ths case