He has been a part of our prospect rankings for a while now, and this year, Jonah Gadjovich needs to take another step towards becoming an NHL-calibre player.
After scoring 15 goals in 19 AHL games, Gadjovich earned himself a taste of the NHL near the end of the 2020-21 season. That game did not go how he wanted. Gadjovich made a bad pass in his own zone that resulted in former Canuck Josh Leivo burying a puck past Braden Holtby on a clear break, and didn’t see much ice after that.
Gadjovich played just 4:55 in that game and dropped the gloves with Connor Mackey before the Canucks scored four unanswered goals in the third period to send the game to overtime. It was the third last game of the season for the Canucks and Gadjovich did not get into either of the final two games.
His giveaway was definitely bad but that one play should not erase all the work he has put in over the past three seasons in the AHL. Gadjovich has become a dominant force in the AHL as a net-front presence who can score at even strength and on the power play while being one of the best team players on and off the ice.
Coming in at number eight on our Canucks prospect rankings is the monster of a man that is Jonah Gadjovich.
Weight: 210 lbs
Age: 22 (23 on October 12th)
2021-22 Team: Abbotsford/Vancouver Canucks
If the Vancouver Canucks moved their AHL team to Abbotsford before last season, there’s no way we wouldn’t have seen Gadjovich in at least 5-10 NHL games. What he was doing in the AHL last season showed that he was ready for the call and well-deserving of a shot to play with the Vancouver Canucks. It’s been a long journey for Gadjovich to get to the point that he is currently at and the tough part for him is that there is so much more road to go for the soon-to-be 23-year-old power forward.
Gadjovich struggled in his first AHL season, battled injury in his sophomore year and then tore up the AHL in his third season. Though his speed didn’t improve a ton through the three years, the ability to adjust to the pace did. He was consistently in the right spot at the right time and was rewarded with his onslaught of scoring during the 2020-21 AHL season. He did most of his damage at five-on-five and looked like he was trending towards the NHL.
I don't think I can stress just how important Gadjovich has been to the Utica Comets offence this season.
At 5v5 Gadj has been THE guy.
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) May 2, 2021
On May 1st, the Canucks announced that they had recalled Gadjovich from the AHL. He had to wait 16 days between games for a taste of the ice and only had a couple of practices with the Canucks after having to quarantine in a Winnipeg hotel for a week.
The way that his recall played out was a recipe for disaster and a sad reality of the COVID-19 impacted season.
Now we look forward to the 2021-22 season and everything is on the line for the big winger. He definitely looked out of place in his only NHL game but as a guy who watched a ton of him in the AHL over the past three seasons, I can tell you that that 4:55 was not the real Gadjovich.
There are definitely parts of his game that need to improve. Gadjovich needs to have quicker foot speed, quicker decision-making and needs to adjust to the NHL pace of play. This coming season, he will get a chance to play in the Canucks’ bottom-six and he will need to show worth in those small sample sizes. I don’t expect to see him play more than 11 minutes in any of his early NHL games this season but when he gets his time, he will need to make an impact à la Zack MacEwen in 2019-20.
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) April 20, 2021
His one standout skill is his pure brute strength and ability to get the first blade on a puck around the crease.
There are a few traits and skills in Gadjovich’s game that could help an NHL team if he is able to round out the weaker points in his all-around game. After struggling with the speed of the AHL in his first two seasons, he looked much more competent last year. A long offseason where Gadjovich was married to the gym while being engaged to his fiancée helped as he outmuscled every AHL defender that he went up against.
There are two big questions about his game and if he can even answer one of them, he can be a bottom-six contributor for the Canucks.
The first question has been one that has hovered above his game like David Quadrelli over a lasagna that’s fresh out of the oven.
It’s his skating.
Though he isn’t a burner, his full-out speed isn’t the main problem, it’s the quick turns, edge work, and ability to react in a split-second to the puck when making those turns. Gadjovich is strong on the boards but open ice and the neutral zone is where he struggles. It’s going to take a handful of NHL games for him to adjust to the pace of an NHL neutral zone and I’d expect to see more failures before consistent success is achieved. In a similar way to his AHL time, he’s going to sink before he swims. Canucks fans will just hope that at some point this season, he ends up swimming.
The second question will be if he is able to manhandle the NHL competition as much as he was able to in the AHL. The AHL is full of big and strong players but they don’t move like the big bodies in the NHL. Gadjovich has the pure strength to keep up with NHLers, but the combination of agility and power is what he will have to adjust to in the NHL.
The good news about Gadjovich is that he is very close to the NHL. In all honesty, he’s about as close as you can get for a player who comes in at number eight on your prospect rankings. The reason why this is a sink or swim season for him comes from how the organization will evaluate him moving forward. The Canucks have a player in Zack MacEwen who does a lot of similar things to Gadjovich. Heck, if this was the 80s or 90s, Big Mac and Gadj would probably square off in training camp for who can assert dominance.
At 22 years old, Gadjovich still has time to develop his game but what I’d like to see more than development is the correct adjustments. He knows that his skating needs to improve and he is working his butt off to make that happen this season.
“I think that I’ve shown every year that I’ve improved my game and I’m hoping to continue to do the same,” Gadjovich told CanucksArmy in early August. “Whenever I’m on the ice, whenever I’m in the gym, I’m doing everything to the best of my ability and really working my butt off. I’m trying to execute every second of offseason practices like I would if Travis Green was watching at a pregame skate deciding if I was going to be in the lineup or not.”
Gadjovich has already landed in Vancouver with his wife and is getting ready to push for a job out of training camp. He’s one to keep an eye on throughout training camp and preseason action. There are parts of his game that are NHL-ready but the organization and most importantly Travis Green will be watching the parts that didn’t impress in his short NHL stint last season.
Though he didn’t shine in his first NHL game like so many other recent Canucks draft picks, Gadjovich didn’t fully show what he’s capable of last season and should not be written off after his one game with the Vancouver Canucks.
With the AHL team now just down the road in Abbotsford, if Gadjovich lands there and produces in a similar way to how he did last season, he will work his way onto the Vancouver roster one way or another.
It’s time to see what he can do at the NHL level this season as he enters the final year of his entry-level contract. We’re expecting to see at least a handful of Gadjovich games in the NHL this season and if he can adjust to the pace or just show physical dominance, there will be a spot for him in the NHL.
Now is the time to see what Jonah Gadjovich can truly do.
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