Canucks Need to See Woo & Klimovich in the NHL in 2022-23

It’s no secret that the Vancouver Canucks have a shallow prospect pool. While it was definitely strengthened with the selection of blue-chipper Jonathan Lekkerimäki at the 2022 Draft, they are still in need of more elite new or existing talent to either be acquired or developed. Some of the former will hopefully be added via trades in the future, but that’s a discussion for a different article. This time, we will be focusing on the latter, which is the development of prospects already in the system.

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The American Hockey League (AHL) is an amazing league for developing players, but eventually, prospects have to get their shot with the parent club so that coaches and management can see how they look against NHL competition. Until that happens, no one really knows how far a particular player has come in their journey to becoming a full-time NHLer. With that, here are a couple of prospects the Canucks need to see donning the Orca outside of the preseason sooner rather than later.

Jett Woo

It’s now been four years since Jett Woo was selected 37th overall by the Canucks at the 2018 Draft. Since then, 42 players beyond the first round have seen at least one game in the NHL. In the second round alone, 15 of the 31 picks have experience at the big league level with Alexander Romanov (selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the very next pick) leading the way with 133 games played. Unfortunately, Woo cannot claim to be one of the 15.

Jett Woo Vancouver Canucks
Jett Woo, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hindsight is of course 20/20, but what would the Canucks’ blue line look like now if they had chosen Romanov (38th), Martin Fehérváry (46th), or Sean Durzi (52nd) instead? Especially Durzi, who is the only right-shot of the bunch and has developed into a major part of the Los Angeles Kings’ defence core. Yes, he was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the fact remains he has made an impact in the NHL already. That’s not to say Woo can’t get there one day, as every prospect develops differently and at their own pace – especially when it comes to defencemen. It’s just difficult to look at what could have been when others drafted afterward have already become integral parts of another team.

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But back to Woo and what the future holds for him with the Canucks. Going into his third season in the AHL, he hasn’t been able to transfer his offensive prowess from the Western Hockey League (WHL) to the next level. Graduating with 33 goals and 160 points in 242 games split between the Moosejaw Warriors and Calgary Hitmen, he was touted as a mobile blueliner with a physical edge that was built for the NHL. Standing at 6-foot, 205 pounds, he hit like a truck and was an emotional leader for both the Warriors and Hitmen, the latter in which he held the distinction of wearing an “A” as an alternate captain.

Jett Woo Calgary Hitmen
Jett Woo, Calgary Hitmen (Gord Rufh/The Hockey Writers)

Since turning pro in 2020-21 with the Utica Comets, Woo has experienced his share of ups and downs. Forming distinct chemistry with top prospect Jack Rathbone during that rookie season, it appeared as though he was well on his way to earning time in the NHL. In fact, he looked so good with him that many people (including me) thought he could eventually become the perfect partner for Quinn Hughes someday. That may still happen, but he has since been taken away from Rathbone and relegated to the bottom-six as a winger (at least to end the 2021-22 campaign). Fortunately, Ryan Johnson, who doubles as the Abbotsford Canucks’ general manager said recently that the organization still sees him as a defenceman, so crisis averted – for now.

Related: Canucks Still Have Trade Partners For J.T. Miller

With a new coach in Jeremy Colliton, maybe Woo will return to the promising defenceman everyone saw when he was paired with Rathbone in 2020-21. Regardless, the Canucks need to see him play some regular season games in the NHL in order to evaluate if that was a sign of things to come or just a flash in the pan. Considering Rathbone will be playing full-time in Vancouver this season, why not pair Woo with him and see what happens?

Danila Klimovich

Before Lekkerimäki, Danila Klimovich was the highest-drafted prospect since Vasily Podkolzin was selected 10th overall in 2019. That’s not saying much since the Canucks did not have a first-round pick in 2020 or 2021 after trades for J.T. Miller, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland. Regardless, the Belarusian forward was the closest they had to a first-round talent before Vancouver returned to Sweden again to select the aforementioned Lekkerimäki 15th overall in 2022 after drafting Elias Pettersson with the fifth pick in 2017.

Related: Danila Klimovich – 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Following an impressive showing at rookie and training camp last season, Klimovich was sent to Abbotsford as an 18-year-old even though the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) was still an option for him. While he struggled to produce at the same level he did at the 2021 U18 World Championship and the Belarus Vysshaya where he scored six and 28 goals respectively, he still displayed an NHL-ready shot and the dynamic characteristics that will probably make him a top-six talent one day. He may have only finished with a paltry eight goals and 18 points in 62 games, but the promise and potential never left the minds of fans and experts that saw him dominate at the international level and rocket up the rankings to become a high second-round pick.

If Klimovich doesn’t pan out and players like Logan Stankoven, who put up insane numbers in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers, become stars, we might be having a different discussion a few years from now. But as it stands, no one – save for Janis Moser – has played in the NHL yet from the second round, so the court is still very much in session.

Like Woo, it would be great to see how Klimovich handles the speed and physicality of the NHL this season. That of course will depend on whether injuries or trades become a factor down the line. But if a top-nine forward goes out, he should be one of the first call-ups just to see how much he’s grown from his time in the AHL so far. With exciting players like Ilya Mikheyev and Andrei Kuzmenko in the lineup, how great would it be to see him aligned with them at some point in 2022-23?

Woo & Klimovich’s Resume Needs NHL Experience Added

While Woo and Klimovich are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how long they have been in the Canucks’ prospect pool, they both should get time in the NHL this season. Woo more than Klimovich, since he needs to at the very least log a few games in the NHL away from the diluted lineups of the preseason. With their need for solid right-hand options at the big-league level, it will go a long way if Woo can establish himself as a regular top-six fixture in the next couple of seasons or so. In an ideal world, that would be alongside Rathbone on the bottom pairing, as they would form a very effective unit if they both hit their potential. However, that will only happen if the Canucks give him a chance in Vancouver sometime before the end of the season.

Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone and Jett Woo should get the chance to be a duo in the NHL in 2022-23 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for Klimovich, he recently stood out at development camp where he again showcased his ripper of a wrist shot and deep bag of creative tools. Except, he was using it against other prospects, not established NHL goaltenders. Until we see him consistently beating them with it, we won’t know if he’s a legitimate blue-chipper. He needs to get time and opportunities with the parent club to do that, though.

Related: 3 Canucks Poised for Bigger Roles in 2022-23

All in all, 2022-23 should be the season both the Klimovich and Woo shows debut at Rogers Arena or elsewhere – even if it’s only for a few games. Only then will the Canucks see what extra development is needed to get them to be productive pieces of the team’s core now and in the future.