Coming in at number six in my Vancouver Canucks prospects rankings is right-shot defenceman Jett Woo.
The most fun name of the top-10 is all business on the ice and plays a defensive-minded game with an above-average physical game while possessing good skating and puck-moving abilities.
Woo was drafted 37th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and this season he made the jump to professional hockey. He has played in all of the 10 games for the Canucks’ minor league team, the Utica Comets. Woo turns 21 after the season and is fitting right in at the AHL level. He is one of the first defencemen out on the penalty kill and is trusted to lock down the defensive zone.
“You’ve got to be able to move pucks and you got to be able to defend,” said Comets head coach Trent Cull. “Those things will get you ice time here and hopefully some ice time in the NHL. Jett is learning to move the puck well, he’s learning to play with an edge.”
Since Jack Rathbone joined the Comets, he has been Woo’s partner on the backend. Rathbone is the perfect match for Woo who is better when he is not the primary puck-moving defenceman. It’s not to say that he is bad at it, it’s just that he is much better when relied upon as an alternate breakout option. He is doing a good job sticking up for teammates this season and that is something he has done throughout his hockey career.
Since the Rathbone-Woo pairing has been formed, Woo is opening up his offensive game much more. He had four shots on net in his first five games without Rathbone as his partner. Since being paired up with Rathbone, he has 11 shots in his last five games.
He is kind of shocking me with how much he likes to shoot the puck. It’s a part of his game that you would see at times in junior but as he made a transition to professional hockey, it felt like he would lean on his defensive strengths. It just seems that he has a smart hockey sense as the second-best option. It’s for this reason that he works with Rathbone in both the offensive zone and in breakouts of the defensive zone.
I hate to say it… but Jett Woo is a new-age “meat and potatoes” type of defenceman. He is tough as nails and consistently throws hits but also skates around the ice with pro-level movement. He is only 20-years-old right now and will take a couple of years before he likely gets his shot in the NHL.
The change in physicality from the WHL to the AHL hasn’t seemed like too much of a challenge for Woo. He has come in and immediately shown confidence in board battles and scrums between the whistles. Here’s a clip of him in his third pro game getting in the face of 27-year-old AHL veteran Cam Darcy.
One of the ways I would describe his game is that he is a supportive defenceman. He has a high hockey IQ and it shows with him rarely being out of place on the ice. Since being drafted in the second round, a lot of fans hoped that he would ultimately become Quinn Hughes’ partner down the road. Throughout his young career, Hughes has primarily played alongside Chris Tanev and Travis Hamonic. It’s not a stretch to believe Woo could be a great fit with Hughes if he is able to progress enough to become a serviceable NHL-level defenceman.
There are some major knocks on his game that need to improve if he is going to get to that point. Back at training camp, I noted that on multiple days he looked like the worst player on the ice. Those things that he struggles with at camp have trickled into the mistakes he makes in the AHL.
As mentioned earlier, he is a great support defenceman because he isn’t asked to do a lot. When Woo gets pressured or has to receive and distribute a pass quickly, he does fumble the puck often.
When he has time and space he moves the puck well, but it’s not a strength in his game. His physicality and positioning are going to be the horses that carry him to the NHL. As a 20-year-old AHL rookie, he has struggled at times but also been challenged by his coach to learn from the mistakes and is thrown right back on the ice without hesitation from Cull.
According to Cody Severtson of CometsHarvest
, at five-on-five, Woo has been on the ice for six Comets goals while only having been on the ice for three goals against. The Comets as a whole have scored 19 goals while having 18 scored against them at five-on-five this season. Cody’s tracking also has Woo averaging just over 23 minutes of ice time per game.
Right now you just want to see Woo get comfortable in the AHL. This will be his home next season where we will hopefully see him evolve into the best defensive defenceman on the team. I’d like to see him improve on his puck-handling skill but for the most part, he already looks comfortable in an AHL environment. From here, he will grow his confidence and hopefully grow his game with it.
If Woo hits his ceiling as a defence prospect, he could end up being the perfect fit to play alongside Hughes. That a big ask to have but from the looks of this season, Hughes can really play with any defenceman and prop them up. Woo has the mindset and IQ to be an upgrade for Hughes in the future. The big question will be if he can get his puck-handling and puck-moving skill up to an acceptable level for the NHL. Currently, those two skills are not close to NHL-ready.
Another year and a half in the AHL will help him work on his weaknesses while also developing his strength and skating for the NHL. I’d like to see Woo come in during the 2022-23 season as the type of player who can not only play with Hughes but help improve the pairing.
Woo is on a longer track to the NHL than players like Nils Höglander or Vasily Podkolzin but he could be on a very similar track to Kole Lind. Lind played parts of four seasons in the AHL and is not knocking on the door to get a crack with the NHL squad. I could see Woo banging on the NHL door when he’s 22 years old.
For now, we will continue to follow his AHL progression and hope to someday see Canucks fans screaming “WOO!” in Rogers Arena.