The Vancouver Canucks don’t have a lot of prospects playing in Canada this season, except for the ones nearby in Abbotsford. They do, however, have a strong contingent of players south of the border playing in the NCAA. While none of them are first-round picks hanging out in the Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser clubhouse, they all have intriguing attributes that could one day translate to the NHL.
The Canucks have had a lot of success in the NCAA, especially when it comes to the later rounds and undrafted free agents. Names like Jack Rathbone (95th overall), Adam Gaudette (149th overall), Troy Stecher (undrafted), and Brogan Rafferty (undrafted) have all played in the NHL and they weren’t expected to make it to even one second of big-league ice.
Granted, three of those names don’t currently play for the Canucks anymore, but they still scouted and developed them into NHL-caliber players. The percentages are not good that any of these current NCAA prospects will hit in the NHL, but with the large amount of undrafted and later-round picks having success right now, you never know. So without further ado, let’s take a look at four NCAA prospects we will be watching closely during the 2021-22 season.
Aidan McDonough, Left Wing (Junior – Northeastern University)
Acquired: 2019 Draft, 195th Overall
2020-21 Stats: 21 GP – 10 G – 10 A – 20 PTS
Now entering his junior season in the NCAA with Northeastern University, Aidan McDonough has gone from a seventh-round pick to one of the top prospects in the Canucks system. Through hard work and continuous improvement, he was named their fifth-best prospect going into the 2021-22 season ahead of second-round picks Jett Woo, Danila Klimovich, and Jonah Gadjovich.
Recently named an assistant captain, McDonough will be taking on a leadership role this season with the Northeastern Huskies. Now 21 years old and into his third year of university, he is relishing the chance to become a mentor to the younger players on the team.
I saw such awesome leaders during my freshman year and even this year we had great leaders that just made me really want to be a part of that. I think when you learn what it takes to win, [as we did] winning a championship my freshman year and seeing what the older guys did to help bring us along and show us the ropes. Right away, I knew that I wanted to be that type of guy that helps the younger guys and the whole team to bring a championship back and I think that’s something that’s 100% in our reach this year.
After a monster 2020-21 season that saw him record his first NCAA hat trick and dominate a weekend with five goals in two games, McDonough is also ready to take the next step in his on-ice development. Like Bo Horvat did before him when faced with criticism about his skating, he is training with a skating coach for the first time in his career.
I want to be quicker off the block and then also in the corners while being able to protect pucks and use my skating ability. So, for the first time in my life, I’m going to a skating coach. Dena Taylor is a local skating coach in Boston and I have to give her a shoutout because she’s the best. She’s awesome and I’ve been going to her a couple of times a week and I already feel the difference when I’m on the ice. I feel a lot more confident on my skates.
If McDonough sees as much of an improvement as Horvat did, watch out. With his offensive awareness and ability to launch one-timers on the power play, he could become a top-nine threat for the Canucks in the very near future. In his most recent interview with Chris Faber and David Quadrelli of Canucks Army, he wasn’t letting on about when that could be. Right now he’s focused on winning a National Championship with the Huskies, which is understandable. Though if his excitement about Rathbone’s NHL experience is any indication, we will be seeing him in Canuck colours very soon.
Jacob Truscott, Left Defence (Sophomore – University of Michigan)
Acquired: 2020 Draft, 144th Overall
2020-21 Stats: 26 GP – 1 G – 4 A – 5 PTS
Another late-round pick in the 100’s, Jacob Truscott will be surrounded by a lot of supreme talent when the 2021-22 season gets underway in October. Armed to the teeth with high-end draft picks, the Michigan Wolverines will be favourites to win it all and Truscott will be smack dab in the middle of it. Having played with Owen Power already, he will be joined by yet another stud in Luke Hughes this season.
Up front, Truscott will have the likes of Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers, Mackie Samoskevich, Dylan Duke, Brendan Brisson, and John Beecher to pass to. Talk about a plethora of options and the potential for a boatload of assists. His mobility and playmaking skills should allow that to happen quite easily, especially with the amount of skill he has to work with.
With that much elite NHL potential on the team, Truscott needs to be a sponge this season and soak in as much knowledge and experience as he can. If he can get some tips from Hughes and Power about taking his game to the next level, it can only be good for him as he continues his path to the NHL.
Jackson Kunz, Centre (Freshman – University of North Dakota)
Acquired: 2020 Draft, 113th Overall
2020-21 Stats: 50 GP – 23 G – 20 A – 43 PTS (USHL – Green Bay Gamblers)
Transitioning from the United States Hockey League (USHL) to the NCAA is a big jump, but Jackson Kunz appears to be ready for it. After a strong campaign with the Green Bay Gamblers where he led his team to the playoffs and was one of their top scorers, he will be playing for the University of North Dakota this season. Like Truscott, he will be playing for a strong program that has churned out an impressive amount of NHLers over the years. From T.J. Oshie and Zach Parise to Jonathan Toews and Brock Boeser, they are known to have produced a few stars.
While Kunz will probably never hit the heights of those players in the NHL, he does have attributes that could make him an effective bottom-six crease crasher. He has good size at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds and he knows where to go to get scoring chances. Unfortunately, if he doesn’t improve on his speed and skating mechanics, the American Hockey League (AHL) might be the height of his success. Though, stranger things have happened. We will just have to wait and see how it looks against faster and tougher competition in the NCAA before we can judge it further.
Jack Malone, Right Wing/Centre (Sophomore – Cornell University)
Acquired: 2019 Draft, 180th Overall
2020-21 Stats: 44 GP – 11 G – 30 A – 41 PTS (USHL – Youngstown Phantoms)
After the NCAA Ivy League decided to cancel all winter sports due to the pandemic, Jack Malone returned to the USHL and the Youngstown Phantoms for another season. Having played his freshman year with Cornell University in 2019-20, he was one of the elder statesmen on a team full of 17, 18 and 19-year-olds. By the end of the season, he had hit 100 points in his USHL career and was 31st in overall points. He also finished as the Phantoms’ leading scorer, just one point ahead of Georgi Merkulov.
Now Malone will return to Cornell to continue his NCAA commitment while studying Business and Agriculture and Life Sciences. His freshman campaign was pretty uneventful as he only put up two goals and eight points in 27 games. With another productive season in the USHL under his belt, the hope will be that he can hit the ground running and continue racking up the points in the NCAA. Like most prospects in the Canucks farm system, he has a strong work ethic and motor so I wouldn’t bet against him becoming another late-round success story.
Malone’s strengths also include playmaking and strong board work and the ability to play centre and wing. Like all the NCAA prospects on this list, it will be interesting to follow his development this season.
With the Canucks forgoing the USHL/NCAA route this past NHL Draft, these four represent the only prospects hanging out in the college circuit this season. Now that former director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett is manning the draft table with the Minnesota Wild, we might not get to watch many more in the coming seasons. Since he appeared to be behind a lot of the picks, the pipeline might dry up under the new regime. So let’s enjoy the success while we can because we might not get to experience it again for a very long time.
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.