Let’s keep the train rolling with the Canucks’ prospects being ranked by yours truly.
We left off with 18-year-old SHL rookie Lucas Forsell’s promising season and we kick off today’s list with another SHL rookie.
#6: Linus Karlsson, RW, 22 years old, Skellefteå (SHL)
With 26 goals in 51 games, Linus Karlsson passed Elias Pettersson in the SHL record books as the top-scoring rookie in league history. Obviously, the players were at very different parts of their hockey careers when they had their rookie seasons but what Karlsson has done this year is still very impressive.
Karlsson has one skill that looks like it is ready for pro hockey in North America — it’s his shot.
His release is clearly his strongest asset and Karlsson will immediately be given time to show that shot off at the AHL level when he arrives in Abbotsford.
Karlsson is another one of those players who will need to spend many hours with skating coach Mackenzie Braid, who I should owe money to for how often I write his name in these articles. Karlsson will need to make improvements while adjusting to the North American game and that may be tough for the young winger. I don’t doubt his ability to score will disappear in the AHL but he will be facing stronger defences with less time and space than in the SHL. The AHL has its flaws but one thing it challenges SHL and KHL players with is the closing time from defenders. Karlsson will need to get his shot off a half-second faster to be successful in the AHL and even quicker to be a force in the NHL.
One thing we love about Karlsson is his year-over-year progression. The big jumps in his development keep coming as he moves up in the level of competition that he faces.
He continues to be challenged with tougher quality of defenders/goaltenders and continually shows that he can score against them. I expect to see Karlsson get into at least a few NHL games as early as next season. He will not likely be coming to North America this year as his SHL playoffs are just around the corner and the timeline with the AHL just doesn’t match.
#5: Jett Woo, RD, 21 years old, Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)
Even with a season-long battle with injuries, Jett Woo comes in at number five. He has played a handful of very impressive games in the AHL this season and is still only 21 years old. Woo has played in 27 of Abbotsford’s 53 games this season. His multiple injuries held him out of game-action for long periods of time but he was able to spend a lot of time with the skating and skills coaches in Abbotsford and returned to the lineup looking like a better skater.
Woo continues to be a physical defenceman who has a quick stick in corners and is able to push around the opposition with his pure strength. The jump that he made this season is his gap control and ability to quickly close in on attacking players. Woo was never really known for being a tremendous skater but this season it feels like he is much lighter on his feet.
He is averaging around 18:30 per night in the AHL this season and is often used as the first pairing defenceman on the penalty kill. At five-on-five, Woo’s control of the goal share is impressive with a 61.1% control of goals scored. Shoutout to Cody Severtson at AHLNucksHarvest
for the advanced stats of the AHL team.
The part of his game that still needs some work is his puck possession. He looks like he’s more comfortable receiving pucks than he was during the 2020-21 season and his ability to carry the puck has improved as well. There still needs to be improvements in that area if he is to ever get regular minutes in the NHL. There are parts of his game that are looking like he is near the NHL but the more skilled parts of the game need refinement before he is even given a chance to get NHL reps. Another full year of AHL hockey will be perfect for evaluating his potential.
Right now, Woo is still trending upwards and if he wasn’t injured and missed half of the Abbotsford Canucks’ games, we may be talking about a player who is higher up in the rankings. You have to hope that health will not be a consistent concern for Woo as he plays a rough and tumble style of game that could lead to injuries. Woo is always going to play physical, always block shots, and always stick up for his teammates.
I have Woo at number five because of his skating improvements, his playing-style, and with the hope that staying healthy will help him grow his game. He is a player in a position of need and one of the things I’d like to see more of is the return of the Jack Rathbone and Woo pairing. That has potential to be the third pairing in a few years and if they can develop chemistry at the AHL level with one another, it will help them once the NHL becomes a reality — if it ever does.
#4: Aidan McDonough, LW, 22 years old, Northeastern Huskies (NCAA)
The second seventh-round pick on our top-10 list, Aidan McDonough has established himself as one of the top pure goal-scorers in NCAA hockey.
It’s clear that McDonough has an NHL shot but the question about his pro projection is if he will be able to keep up with the pace of the NHL. McDonough continues to improve throughout his college career and added a skating coach to his offseason training this past summer. The skating coach paid dividends this season as there has been a noticeable boost to his skating this year in his junior year compared to his sophomore season.
Defensively, there is a consistent effort from McDonough. He uses his size to his advantage on the boards and has a long reach that helps him poke pucks loose off of point men to create turnovers at the blue line. His defensive game isn’t a strength but with his size and reach, it definitely isn’t a knock on his game.
We want to see McDonough make the jump to the AHL and prove that he can beat goaltenders with his shot at that level. On top of seeing the shot, McDonough will need to prove that he can skate at the AHL level. He will immediately be a big part of the AHL team’s power play. If he were to sign at the end of this current NCAA season, the AHL team could have an extremely dangerous power play next season with Linus Karlsson as the left flank, Jack Rathbone as the point man, and McDonough on the right flank — that would make for a very exciting unit.
Many of you reading this are likely wondering if McDonough is going to sign at the end of this season or go back to Northeastern for his senior year. McDonough is currently in the NCAA playoffs and could be eliminated as soon as this coming weekend. At this current moment, there has not been a final decision made from McDonough and his representation. Our belief is that it is going to depend on how many of the other NHL prospects on the Northeastern roster decide to go pro. Northeastern has a strong roster that is still young and on the back of the best goalie in NCAA hockey in Devon Levi, they have a good chance to make a run for the national championship next season. Northeastern feels like they have been building up for something special and we understand why McDonough may want to return for his senior year to finish the job.
If McDonough is to sign in the next couple of weeks, the Vancouver Canucks are ready to welcome him with open arms if he decides to turn pro.
“I think it’s important for every player to make a decision if they if they are ready or not,” said general manager Patrik Allvin during his trade deadline media availability. “If he’s ready to come out, we would be very excited to have him here in the organization and continue to work with him.”
The Canucks have McDonough’s exclusive signing rights until August 15th, 2023 and will be able to add him at the end of the next NCAA season if McDonough chooses to not go pro this spring.
No matter the case, McDonough has potential to become a middle-six winger if he can prove to keep up with the pace of the NHL. If he is able to add more of a grinder aspect to his game, he could also become a power play specialist who plays on a fourth line. It’s clear that his shot is something special and the Canucks will need to work with him to improve the other areas of his game.
McDonough is looking great for a seventh-round pick and has set himself up to work his way into an NHL lineup down the road.
This wraps up the second instalment of my top-10 prospect ranking. We will see you in a couple of days with the big three!
10. Chase Wouters
9. Arturs Silovs
8. Mikey DiPietro
7. Lucas Forsell
6. Linus Karlsson
5. Jett Woo
4. Aidan McDonough