This is a make or break year for Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jett Woo
Photo credit:Gerry Kahrmann
By Noah Strang1 year ago
It’s no secret that the Vancouver Canucks are desperate for help on the right side of their defence group. The position group marks a glaring hole on the depth chart, both in terms of NHL talent and prospects in the pipeline. This has forced the team to get creative in finding a solution and experiment with moving left-handed players to their off-side.
At one point, right-handed defenceman Jett Woo looked like he was going to be a steady presence for the Canucks. A second-round pick in 2018, Woo enticed scouts and fans alike with a physical game that harkened back to an older NHL.
There was lots of excitment around Woo’s selection as Canucks fans have been searching for a physical defenceman to embrace. Ever since Kevin Bieksa departed the organization, there hasn’t been a player of a similar mould that captured the city’s heart.
Additionally, as the second-highest draft pick of Chinese descent in NHL history, Vancouver seemed like a great city for Woo. With a large Asian population, the city would embrace any player of Asian descent with open arms.
However, just a few years later, Woo’s development has been far from optimal and he now finds himself in a precarious position.
Where does Woo currently stand with the Canucks?
“You look on our right side and we don’t have any young right-shot defenseman coming. So we’d like to do that, but we can only do it when somebody becomes available,” said Jim Rutherford in a recent interview.
That quote from the Canucks President of Hockey Operations strongly suggests that the Canucks don’t think much of Woo and that he’s fallen from his status as a prestigious prospect inside the organization.
It’s a fair assessment after Woo’s disappointing performance in professional hockey over the previous few seasons. He hasn’t done much to inspire confidence that he can become a full-time NHLer as he has stagnated and struggled to become an AHL contributor.
Woo played the least minutes of any Canucks’ defenceman on Sunday night against the Calgary Flames, recording just 12:40 TOI. Wyatt Kalynuk and Danny DeKeyser both played significantly more minutes.
What’s gone wrong in Woo’s development?
Woo had a great season in his D+1 year, recording over a point-per-game with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL. However, the season after that, he was moved to the Calgary Hitman and struggled to replicate that success. In what should have been a dominant final year of junior hockey, Woo managed just 46 points in 64 games.
Woo’s transition to professional hockey, an already tough journey, was made even more difficult by the challenges provided by the pandemic. Despite that, Woo still had an encouraging first year in Utica. It was this past season where things began to become more concerning.
Last season, he was moved in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch at different points during the season. Woo also lost his place in the Abbotsford Canucks defence group and even took shifts at forward during the playoffs.
Across 70 AHL games with the Canucks affiliate, Woo has managed to record 13 points. While he’s not known for his offensive production, a legitimate NHL prospect should do better than that, no matter their play style. He also hasn’t been a physically imposing player at the professional level the same way he was in junior.
He hasn’t seized the opportunities provided to him in the way that’s expected from a player fighting for his NHL future. The Canucks haven’t been great at growing players through their system and Woo seems to be yet another example of a promising player that’s stalled out with the AHL team.
What does Woo need to do for this season to be considered a success?
This situation leaves Woo with a make-or-break season where he needs to show significant improvement. Finding AHL / NHL tweener defencemen isn’t very difficult — the Canucks have done so with Kalynuk, Luke Schenn, and others in recent years to varying degrees of success — and if Woo cannot show some sort of greater potential, it will be time for both sides to part ways.
A successful season this year for Woo would mean establishing himself as a bonafide top-four AHL defenceman with special teams utility. With a new head coach in Abbotsford, the fresh start could be exactly what the still just 22-year-old defenceman needs.
The new regime in Vancouver has made it clear that player development will be a point of focus. What better case study to start with than seeing if the staff can help Jett Woo get back on track to becoming an NHL contributor?
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