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Faber’s Prospect Rankings #8: Cole McWard has size, can skate, can shoot, and if he can defend, we are cooking

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Photo credit:@canucks, @colemcward, @ohiostatemhky on IG
Faber
By Faber
9 months ago
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Though he doesn’t have much of a runway as a Canucks prospect, getting into five NHL games last season should do nothing but help Cole McWard in his development.
McWard is a 6’1″ 22-year-old right-shot defenceman who is at his best with the puck on his stick. He glides around the ice and is yet to make a full evolution into a pro player. Those five games last season certainly helped but McWard will likely start the season in the AHL next year and will begin to know what the daily grind is for a pro compared to an NCAA player.
It may come as a bit of a surprise to see an undrafted NCAA free agent coming in at number eight on our rankings– especially as he has only been a Canucks prospect for three months.
First off, there are a lot of things to like in McWard’s game but we are certainly taking a bit of risk including him here in our top-10. As much as we liked him in his five games with the Canucks, the players will tell you that those were somewhat mean-nothing games. There were no playoffs on the line, the team’s best outcome from winning was instilling confidence into next season while subsequently losing draft positioning.
The major reasons why we have McWard at #8 on our list come from his size, position, age, and current talent level.
McWard being a right-shot defenceman will certainly help him in our rankings but it’s not just about the position. His size is intriguing — he is certainly 6’1″ but from standing next to him and getting a true ‘how tall is this hockey player actually?‘, we’d say he’s closer to 6’2″. McWard just turned 22 years old last month and is very early in the stages of becoming a pro.
As for his current talent level, we like a lot of the little things in McWard’s game. He’s willing to take a hit if it means that he can have an extra second to make a pass and is very capable as a puck-handler in the offensive zone. One of the things we like the most about his puck-handling skill is how he can be looking up at all times. McWard rarely looks down to see where the puck is, he has a good feel for the vulcanized rubber.
There’s a strong base to build on with McWard and he will now get daily work with the Canucks’ development team as a full-time AHLer. This is a big reason why we like players developing in the AHL — they are able to get development coaches that are simply not rivalled by other leagues around the world. Getting with skating coach Mackenzie Braid, as well as development coaches Daniel and Henrik Sedin will help with offensive zone confidence. Being able to have daily communication with these coaches while also playing in arguably the second-best league in the world put the 22-year-old McWard in a great spot to build up from his strong base level of talent.

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Ceiling: Second-pairing defenceman. It will be tough for McWard to achieve this but if he is able to grow his defending skill to an above-average NHL level, there will not be questions about his offensive and skating abilities. It’s all about becoming a capable defender against NHL talent. If McWard can do that, he has second-pairing potential.
Floor: AHL top-four defenceman. He’s not going to be worse than that.
Production (and how): McWard scored nine goals and added 12 assists in 39 games with THE Ohio State Buckeyes last year. Much of his damage was done on the power play as he worked the one-time on the left half-wall but also saw offence at even-strength due to his ability to walk the line and somewhat toy with forwards at the blue line. Obviously, he won’t be able to do that as much in the AHL but there’s certainly going to be a few times next season where McWard makes some AHLers look silly as they attempt to defend against him. McWard also scored one goal in his five NHL games. Nice to see him write that one off quickly.
Prediction (for the 2023-24 year): Our expectation is that McWard spends the entire season in Abbotsford. He will be playing top-four minutes and should become a fan favourite pretty quickly down on the farm. He could see power play time but we would love to see the coaching staff develop him into a penalty killer. There’s a lot to like with McWard in terms of his reach in the defensive zone and if the AHL staff can develop him into a defensive-minded defenceman with some offensive upside, the team will benefit in the long run. As for a prediction, we see McWard playing in 63 AHL games while scoring nine goals and adding 27 assists.
ETA: Since we’ve already seen McWard in the NHL, our ETA is more of a prediction of when he will get a long run in the NHL, not just a few games here and there due to an injury. We are going to guess that when Tyler Myers comes off the books, McWard will be in the conversation for NHL ice time. That could be sometime this season or if Myers’ contract is played-out to its entirety, as we expect, McWard should be able to fight for a job at training camp ahead of the 2024-25 season.
McWard is a difficult one to project as there are some extremely intriguing skills that you can see from the eye test but he had strong possession numbers in the NCAA and held his own in the NHL even though he was somewhat thrown to the wolves with NHL action being his first look at pro hockey. We loved that in his final four NCAA games, he was an absolute horse — averaging 27:12 of ice time in Ohio State’s most important games of the year.
Ranking McWard might go well but it could easily go poorly for us. We believe in the player but he could easily be outside of our top-10 by the next time we write this series of articles. It’s going to all depend on development now. There’s been good scouting to get him here with the Canucks and with him being a part of Abbotsford next season, the pressure is now on the coaches to take this good base and evolve it into a capable NHLer.
It’s another good, young defenceman to follow out there in Abbotsford and we hope that this kid can continue to evolve his game.
The strong base, good offensive skills as well as potential to become a shutdown defenceman make us believe McWard is worthy of the #8 spot in our rankings.

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