The Vancouver Canucks have a lot of exciting prospects in their pipeline right now, so I thought it would be great to get to know more about them. In this series, I will endeavor to point a spotlight on every prospect they currently have in their system. You will find out about their journey before they became a Canucks prospect all the way to what’s happening in their development right now. Their overall NHL potential will be discussed along with a brief scouting report as well.
So, without further ado, let’s get the Canucks Prospect Spotlight series going with defenceman Jett Woo!
Woo’s Journey Began With a Strong Work Ethic
A strong work ethic has always been the foundation Woo built his personal life and hockey career on. That and the importance of doing the little things that no one else wanted to do on the ice. His father, Larry made sure he knew that from a very young age.
That’s something I’ve tried to instill in Jett…If there’s anything he wants out there, put the work in. Don’t find the easy way…One thing that I told Jett that was very hard to find was playing defense, working in the trenches, blocking shots, doing a lot of the things that people don’t want to do.
To be an NHL defenceman, especially one that is relied upon in key situations, you have to be good defensively and be willing to put your body in harm’s way. Coaches, teammates, and even fans notice when these things are being done. Everyone wants to be the offensive star that scores the big goal, but to win consistently you have to have players that are willing to put the work in and battle hard every shift. It’s not always pretty, but a lot of the time wars are won on the boards and in the trenches, not in the open ice.
Woo’s Time With the Winnipeg Warriors/Wild
Woo began his hockey career at the young age of 13 with the WAAA’s Winnipeg Warriors. He played two seasons there, posting 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games. Before graduating to midget AAA, he was selected fourth overall by the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League (WHL) Bantam Draft. Ironically, they used to be called the Winnipeg Warriors, the same team he started his career with.
In 2015-16, Woo played midget AAA hockey with the Winnipeg Wild of the Manitoba AAA Hockey League. He ended up playing only one season there, scoring 6 goals and 27 points in 22 games, before debuting in the WHL with the Warriors later that year.
Woo’s Time With the Moose Jaw Warriors
Woo began his career in the WHL with the Warriors on Sept 26, 2015 against the Regina Pats. He was shuttled up and down from the Wild all season and finished with one point in seven games.
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It wasn’t until the 2016-17 season, when Woo became a full-time member of the team, that he started to show his true potential as a defenceman. That season he racked up five goals and 22 points in 65 games and played in both the U17 World Hockey Championship (WHC) and the U18 World Junior Championship (WJC) with Team Canada where he scored a combined two goals and six points in 11 games. He also captained his team and walked away with an All-Star team selection in the U17 WHC and a top-three player acknowledgment in the U18 WJC.
That first season was just the beginning as Woo began to establish himself as a premier defenceman in the WHL during his 2017-18 draft year. He started playing with more of an edge and was relied upon to not only provide a defensive presence but also an offensive spark as well. He only improved by three points, but he did it in 21 fewer games. He also scored nine goals compared to five the previous season. If not for some injury problems, he probably would have completely shattered his previous totals and subsequently been selected as a first-round pick.
Woo Selected 37th Overall By the Canucks In the 2018 NHL Draft
Despite injuries to his shoulder, hip, and oblique that forced Woo to miss 22 games, scouting outlets were still impressed enough to project him as a late first-round pick or early second-round pick. His combination of skating, physicality, defensive awareness, and work ethic was still hard to ignore even with the injury problems. By the time the 2018 NHL Draft came around, he was ranked 28th amongst North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and as high as 26th by Future Considerations. He ultimately went 37th overall to the Canucks, which many thought of as a steal at that position.
Ultimately it was his character and competitive nature that swayed the pendulum for the Canucks, as director of player development Ryan Johnson exclaimed,
He’s a competitor…He faced some adversity this season with an injury, and kind of fell further down the (draft) board than maybe people had expected early. But this is a high, high character kid that I do feel is very raw in his approach to a lot of things about the game, which we get excited about because that’s where our resources come in from a development side.
The excitement for the Canucks future on defence was definitely at a fever pitch after that draft as they walked away with the dynamic Quinn Hughes at seventh overall as well.
Woo’s 2018-19 Breakout Season
After being looked over by Team Canada for the 2019 WJC, Woo took it personally and broke out with 12 goals and 66 points in 62 games. He was arguably one of the best blueliners in the WHL as he finished fifth amongst defencemen in points, and was named to the second all-star team at the end of the season.
As you could imagine, it didn’t take long for the Canucks to lock Woo into an entry-level contract. Towards the end of the WHL season, he put pen to paper and officially became a part of the family.
We’re very excited at the strides Jett has made this season with Moose Jaw…He plays the game with good intensity and attention to detail at both ends of the ice. Jett is an important part of our future and we look forward to his continued development.Jim Benning, Canucks general manager
Woo Struggled After Trade to the Hitmen
Shortly after the 2018-19 WHL season ended, Woo was traded to the Calgary Hitmen where he struggled to put up the same numbers he did for the Warriors in 2018-19. By the end of the 2019-20 season, his production dropped by 20 points. Though as Thomas Anderson from The Canuck Way pointed out, his secondary assists went from 22 in 2018-19 to eight in 2019-20. That’s quite a drop-off, especially when you take into account that 54 of his points that season came in the assist column.
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Despite the drop in production, he still ended the season fourth on the Hitmen in points with 46 and 14th in the WHL amongst defencemen overall. He also was given more leadership responsibilities on his new team as an assistant captain and was put into more of a defensive role as well.
So I would not call the 2019-20 season a disappointment by any means. Woo may not have gone out with a bang, but he showed a more responsible two-way game and looks to be ready to take the next step as a member of the AHL’s Utica Comets in the 2020-21 season, whenever that may be.
What Will Woo Eventually Bring to the Canucks?
Woo is a throwback defenceman with a significant edge to his game, and with his size and strength, he could definitely be an impact player on the Canucks’ future blueline. Throughout his time in the WHL, he never was afraid of throwing his body around, and he prided himself on shutting down the very best the league had to offer.
Even though Woo plays the game like he’s from the 80s and 90s, he has tremendous mobility for his size, so he’s not just a lumbering physical defenceman out there. He’s more like former Canucks’ blueliner Kevin Bieksa, nasty, mobile, and very difficult to play against.
You don’t hear this term as much as we used to, but he’s a throwback. He’s just a hockey player. He comes to the rink, he does his thing, he plays hard, he competes, he’s got some nastiness in his game, and he wants to take on the best players on the other team. He wants to shut them down, he wants to make the game hard for them to play.Alan Millar, GM of the Moose Jaw Warriors (from ”He’s a throwback’: Canucks prospect Jett Woo plays like he’s in a different era of hockey’ AthleticNHL, 8/8/19)
Woo is someone the Canucks desperately need on their team right now, as they lack that type of physical presence on the back end. He also is a right hand shot too, which is very hard to come by in the NHL.
With veteran Chris Tanev potentially moving on in the offseason, they could use an ere apparent to play with the flashy Hughes. With his skill set, he could be the perfect partner for him in the future. No one would dare mess with the Calder Trophy contender with him patrolling the defensive zone.
Woo’s NHL Potential
If all goes according to plan, Woo will play in the AHL with the Comets in the 2020-21 season on a revamped blueline with Jack Rathbone potentially playing alongside him. In fact, that could turn out to be the top pairing head coach Trent Cull goes with when the season gets going. If one or both of them don’t bust down the door with the Canucks in training camp, that could be an interesting duo to watch throughout the season.
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As for his potential, Woo has all the tools to become an impact defenceman in the NHL. His style may not be as common as it was in the 90s and early 2000s, but he has the mobility that is required in this new league. Despite the shift to smaller, finesse defencemen, teams still need the physicality that he brings to the ice each and every shift. There are still big forwards that need to be contained, and he can definitely do that at the highest level.
According to Hockey Prospector, Woo has a 74 percent chance of becoming an NHLer and a 39 percent chance of becoming a star. When we compare him to a similar NHL defenceman in Bieksa, Woo actually has a better chance than he did when he came out of his development league of the NCAA, and look at what Bieksa turned out to be.
Woo’s character and competitive nature is also a big reason why he will ultimately make it to the NHL. Work ethic is something that brings even the most unlikely players to the biggest stage. We see it every day, and he just has it in his blood to work hard and succeed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a solid top-four defenceman in his prime.
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Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.