With a name like Woo, you’d expect some excitement.
This season, 21-year-old Jett Woo is bringing just that to Abbotsford.
The two-way, right-shot defenceman is beginning to woo his coach in his second professional season. After setting a high bar with his performance in the pandemic 2020-21 season, Abbotsford Canucks head coach Trent Cull has expectations for the developing defenceman.
Woo has been tasked with playing on the top pairing in Abbotsford as well as receiving ample time on the penalty kill, receiving a dash of power play time and being used on his off-side when the situation presents itself.
Jett Woo is basically doing it all in Abbotsford. For a 21-year-old, that’s a great sign of development towards becoming an NHLer.
“I came into Abbotsford wanting to develop and be a player that can play in all situations,” said Woo when asked about how he feels about his development towards the NHL.
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“I’m trying to continue on this track. Last year in the AHL was great for that. I was able to get to know the structure and see how the team plays. As well as how the coaches think and want me to play. Last year was a big step for me. We’re always trying to develop to reach the ultimate goal.”
Woo’s ultimate goal is to make it to the NHL and he’s on the right track. He’s consistently playing over 20 minutes a night this year and by the limited tracking that I have from the AHL, he is averaging over 21:30 of ice time with a season-high of 24:57.
Cull was impressed by Woo’s game last Saturday. He called that the “bar moving forward” for Woo. Cull has been impressed with how Woo improved over the summer and is really starting to trust Woo in all situations.
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“Jett has a combination that every good defenseman needs,” said Cull. “His skating, his gap control, his stick work, and his body positioning is what Jett does a really good job with. Last Saturday night, he shut down a lot of rushes and it came from his skating being so good. On any opportunity against, he seemed like he was getting back quick just looked like he was flying.”
Defending in space is a strength of Woo’s and as the game gets quicker every year, this is a valuable asset to have as a defenceman. Woo has always been known as a defensive defenceman but told CanucksArmy back at training camp that though he wants to focus on being stable defensively, that’s not all he can bring to a game.
Cull praised Woo’s game on Saturday night against the Ontario Reign. Woo was tasked with moving down to the second pairing as Travis Hamonic slid into the lineup. Woo not only skated with a new partner, but he also did it while sliding over to his off-side as a left defenceman.
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“I want him to play that kind of game all the time because the other ones were just okay,” said Cull. “Now, this is the bar that I wanted. From now on, it’ll be about what will come after that, our focus now should be consistency. I thought Jett had an outstanding game last Saturday. I was waiting for him to have one of those games because I felt like he was finding his way through the first few but it wasn’t to the level that I had expected. I’m excited for him because by him raising the bar, that’s now my bar for him. So I have that expectation of him moving forward.“
The situation on the backend with the Abbotsford Canucks now gets very exciting with the addition of Jack Rathbone. Last season, Rathbone and Woo made a great pairing together. Rathbone’s offensive prowess meshes so well with Woo’s best skills.
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Woo can skate well, throws the body around, and shows strong spatial awareness in the defensive zone. Even with his strength in the defensive zone, Woo shouldn’t be labelled as a defensive defenceman. Instead, he should be looked at as a support defenceman.
He has a strong focus on being responsible in the defensive zone but where he shows NHL potential the most is how he makes his partner look so much better and allows them to play to their strengths.
Last season saw consistent puck handing/moving mistakes from Woo but in the early stages of this year, that area of his game appears to have taken a big step in the right direction.
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At 21 years old, Woo is on a steady path to the NHL but is not being rushed or held back at all. His current situation in the AHL feels perfect. He is playing a ton of minutes, learning from mistakes and has a great relationship with his head coach.
It’s not like his playstyle is that exciting to watch but it’s more about how he projects into an NHL lineup that is exciting. With two young, promising offensive defencemen in Rathbone and Quinn Hughes, the final destination for Woo is being partnered up with one of those two in a couple of years.
The current right-side NHL defencemen are all under contract for at least the next two seasons so there’s no rush to get Woo into the NHL. He will be able to mature in the AHL and could end up being the best development story for Trent Cull and Ryan Johnson. We haven’t seen many players come through the AHL in recent years but Woo’s development is a good example of a slow burn to round out every aspect of his game before he is thrust into the NHL.
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He is already showing large improvements in his puck handling skills since last season. Now, with top-pairing duties, it will be demanding but excellent as he develops towards becoming an NHL defenceman.
Don’t expect to see Woo in the NHL this season. There’s a development plan for him and if he continues to be a first pairing AHL defenceman for the next year and a half, he will be more than ready to fill in when an injury happens or an opportunity presents itself for the 2022-23 season.
It’s great to have this prospect in Abbotsford and the fans at the Abbotsford Centre have already taken a liking to him as the “WOOs” filling the arena every time he touches the puck.
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Some defencemen take a bit longer to develop and that is the case with Woo, who will be much stronger and hopefully an even better skater by the time he is 22 or 23 years old.
He fills a positional need for the Canucks, is continuing to improve and is only 21-years-old. There’s a lot to like right now and even more to be excited for in the near future.