The Vancouver Canucks have only three games left to play this season, but the Abbotsford Canucks are gearing up for a (hopefully) long playoff run in the American Hockey League (AHL) after clinching home ice on Friday thanks to Jett Woo’s overtime winner against the Ontario Reign. Meanwhile, the parent club has liked what they have seen from NCAA free agent signings Akito Hirose and Cole McWard, and Jonathan Lekkerimaki has impressed in the Allsvenskan playoffs since returning from an injury.
All that and more in the latest Canucks Prospects Report as we take a look at how the organization’s top prospects have done in their respective postseasons, and in some cases the 2022-23 regular season, as some of their teams didn’t make it to the playoffs.
Woo Helps Clinch Home Ice For the Abbotsford Canucks
The Canucks will have home ice in the playoffs. Hopefully we will be saying that about the Vancouver Canucks and the Abbotsford Canucks sometime soon, but until then, fans will get the opportunity to cheer on the likes of Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Jack Rathbone, and others in the AHL Playoffs starting April 19. Woo guaranteed at least three home games at Abbotsford Center with his overtime goal on Friday against the Reign, and at the same time bumped his career-high total to seven on the season.
The former Calgary Hitmen and Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman has been on fire lately with four goals in his last eight games, including a three-game goal streak, and now has seven goals and 20 points in 66 games. Drafted in the second round all the way back in 2018, Woo appears to finally be turning a corner in his development. Touted as a physically dominant puck mover with a ceiling of a top-four defender, he has struggled a bit since turning pro. In a 2018 Draft that has seen second-round graduates like Alexander Romanov, Martin Fehervary, Sean Durzi, Calen Addison and Kevin Bahl become NHLers, the Canucks are hoping this season is a sign of things to come.
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With the parent club dealing with a plethora of injuries on defence, Abbotsford has been decimated on the backend losing Rathbone, leading scorer Christian Wolanin (who had 55 points before his recall), Noah Juulsen, and Guillaume Brisebois to Vancouver. So, it’s been Woo’s defence corps to lead, and he’s done a masterful job of it. Luckily, he should be getting some reinforcements soon with Wolanin and Juulsen on track to return before the playoffs, along with forwards Podkolzin and Phil Di Giuseppe being sent up the freeway from Vancouver to Abbotsford when the NHL season ends.
Other Abbotsford Canucks News & Notes
- Linus Karlsson has had a monster rookie season, leading all forwards in goals (23) and points (48), and currently sits seventh in goals, four back of the leader Ethen Frank of the Hershey Bears.
- Arshdeep Bains, who was signed as an undrafted free agent from the Red Deer Rebels in the offseason, has also impressed with 12 goals and 37 points. The Surrey native has endeared himself to fans with his tenacity and work ethic, drawing comparisons to former Canuck Tyler Motte.
- Aatu Raty is heating up at the right time with five points (two goals, three assists) in his last nine games. He got off to a slow start since coming over in the Bo Horvat trade with the New York Islanders but now has a respectable 10 points in 22 games.
- Tristen Nielsen, who surprisingly still doesn’t have an NHL contract, has put together a solid season in Abbotsford with 14 goals and 41 points in 61 games so far. The former Vancouver Giant has doubled his goal total from his rookie season and has 30 more points as well. If the Canucks don’t end up signing the speedy forward, I’m sure another NHL team will.
Hirose Impresses With First Two Assists in the NHL; McWard With First NHL Goal
Since his debut on April 2, Hirose has looked like a veteran of 100 NHL games rather than just four. His poise and calmness rival that of former Canuck Chris Tanev as he rarely panics with the puck in his own zone.
I’d say it’s something I was just born with. A God-given gift, I guess.– Akito Hirose after being asked about his composure under pressure in his own zone
Hirose picked up the first two points of his career on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks and is quickly becoming a favorite of head coach Rick Tocchet. He is already playing upwards of 20 minutes a night and has seen time on both the power play and penalty kill as well. Overall he’s played a relatively mistake-free game and is making a strong case to be in the starting rotation next season.
Speaking of firsts, McWard also got into the act with his first NHL goal on Saturday (April 8) against the Calgary Flames. He opened the scoring 9:03 into the first period, flicking a wrist shot through traffic that fooled Jacob Markstrom and found the back of the net. Signed out of Ohio State University on April 5, the 6-foot-1 right-hander has now gotten into two NHL games and looks comfortable with the speed and pace of the big leagues. He hasn’t gotten a lot of ice time, averaging only 13 minutes, but he hasn’t been a liability defensively and has already shown signs of becoming a solid blueliner in the future.
Lekkerimaki Returning To Form in Allsvenskan Playoffs
After struggling with injuries and inconsistent play for most of the season, Lekkerimaki is finally looking like the prospect the Canucks selected 15th overall in 2022. He has been lighting it up in the Allsvenskan playoffs since returning from his latest injury with three goals and five points in six games, all while showcasing his wicked wrist shot off the rush. His most recent offensive exploits saw him record two assists in a must-win game for Djurgardens as they tied up their series 2-2 with a 5-4 victory over Bjorkloven.
Still arguably the Canucks’ top prospect right now, Lekkerimaki has had a bumpy road since being drafted. He first had to deal with a bout of Mono that took months to recover from, then a concussion that put his 2023 World Juniors in doubt, and finally a foot injury that took him out of the lineup for six weeks. He still ended up playing 29 games for Djurgardens, but only put up three goals and nine points. Fortunately, an eight-week timeline became six and he returned for the aforementioned playoffs. Hopefully, this string of bad luck with injuries/illness is a thing of the past, and he can get back to developing into the top-line winger every Canucks fan envisioned when he fell to Vancouver at 15th overall.
Other News & Notes
- Josh Bloom and the North Bay Battalion are off to the second round of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoffs as they beat the Mississauga Steelheads 4-2. He had two goals and six points in the series.
- Connor Lockhart and the Peterborough Petes swept the Sudbury Wolves in their OHL first round series. He had a goal and three points.
- Elias Pettersson (aka D-Petey) and Orebro are down 3-2 in their semi-final series in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) after losing 3-2 in overtime on Sunday (April 9). He has not recorded a point in 12 playoff games so far and is a minus-1 in the plus/minus column. Game 6 goes on April 11, where his team will be facing elimination.
- Daimon Gardner has continued his solid season for the Tri-City Storm in the United States Hockey League (USHL) where he has 11 goals and 41 points in 42 games. His team has clinched a playoff spot in the Western Conference and will be competing for the Clark Cup starting April 24.
That does it for another Canucks Prospects Report. Stay tuned for the next one as we will be focusing mostly on the playoffs (specifically the AHL). Until then enjoy the rest of the regular season!