Canucks Top-10 Prospects Heading Into the 2021-22 Season

With the 2021 NHL Draft in the books, the Vancouver Canucks have six new additions to their prospect pool. The last time I did a top 10 prospects piece was back in 2019-20 when Quinn Hughes and Nils Hoglander were ranked 1-2. Since then, they have both become significant parts of the exciting new core of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat. The only one remaining from that top three is Vasily Podkolzin, who will be in the running for the top spot this year, and will soon join that core five.

Related: Canucks on the Farm: Homegrown Talent a Focus This Offseason

After doing a prospects pyramid last season, the top 20 rankings make a triumphant return in 2021-22. First up is the top ten, which includes some new names this time around. So without further ado, let’s start the countdown!

10. William Lockwood (LW)

Acquired: Third Round (64th overall), 2016 Draft
2020-21 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
2020-21 Stats: 24 GP – 4 G – 7 A – 11 PTS / 2 GP – 0 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Abbotsford Canucks (AHL), call-ups to the Canucks

Coming in at number 10 is William Lockwood, formally of the Michigan Wolverines. Now entering his second professional season in the American Hockey League (AHL), he will be traveling west to the Abbotsford Canucks along with the other Utica Comets holdovers to form the nucleus of the new farm team. That is if he doesn’t beat the odds and end up with the parent club in Vancouver.

Will Lockwood Utica Comets
Will Lockwood, Utica Comets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lockwood has progressed a lot since his days in the NCAA. He did start out a little slow in the AHL with the Comets when he put up only four points in his first 14 games but turned it around at the end of the season with eight points in his final 11 games. His confidence seemed to grow throughout the season as his game became more consistent. He credits the coaching staff and head coach Trent Cull for that.

I cherish that time in Utica…I think I developed really well, especially the second half. I really started finding my game and the coaches down there were great and helped me through that. I think in the second half, I found a little bit of confidence and just tried to ride that momentum.

William Lockwood

Lockwood has the toolbox to become a successful bottom-six forward in the NHL. Not only does he skate like the wind, but he also has the uncanny ability to get underneath the skin of opposing players. Chris Faber over at Canucks Army compares him to Tyler Motte, but I see a lot more of Jannik Hansen in him. The speed and relentless forechecking are what separates him from the pack, and Hansen did that better than anyone. This might be a stretch, but I see Lockwood potentially getting a chance in the top six one day as a puck retriever ala Hansen with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

9. Jett Woo (RD)

Acquired: Second Round (37th overall), 2018 Draft
2020-21 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
2020-21 Stats: 28 GP – 3 G – 2 A – 5 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)

Finally turning pro in 2020-21, Jett Woo turned in a pretty good rookie season in the AHL even though his point total did not reflect it. Playing side-kick to Jack Rathbone, the dynamic duo seemed to mesh perfectly the minute Cull paired them together. With Rathbone’s speed, puck movement, and hockey IQ, and Woo’s physicality and smart defensive play, they seemed to be a match made in heaven.

Related: Canucks Prospect Spotlight: Jett Woo

According to Byron Bader’s model over at Hockey Prospecting, Woo has dropped from 70 percent to 61 percent in NHLer probability, but that’s more due to his point totals and not overall game. He was a top-pairing defenceman all season and seemed to elevate his game when Rathbone was called up to the Canucks in May. He took over his spot on the first unit power play and ended up scoring two out of his three goals without him by his side.

Jett Woo Courtesy of HockeyProspecting.com
Jett Woo Courtesy of HockeyProspecting.com

If all goes well this season, Woo could be heading up the top pairing again with either Rathbone or new signing Brad Hunt. Either way, he will have a very skilled partner to play with as he embarks on his sophomore season in the AHL.

8. Dmitri Zlodeyev (C)

Acquired: Sixth Round (175th overall), 2020 Draft
2020-21 Team: Dynamo Krasnogorsk (VHL) / MHK Dynamo Moskva (MHL)
2020-21 Stats: 19 GP – 7 G – 0 A – 7 PTS / 16 GP – 4 G – 8 A – 12 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Dynamo Krasnogorsk (VHL)

Another late-round pick that appears to be a steal is Dmitri Zlodeyev. Similar to Lockwood in style, he plays the game with a lot of speed and energy. His motor runs very hot most of the time and his two-way acumen could get him to the NHL one day as a 15-20 goal scorer that kills penalties and plays a match-up role on the third line. He is also amazing at faceoffs, which should bode well for that third-line center position in the future once Jason Dickinson moves on.

Dmitri Zlodeyev Team Russia
Dmitri Zlodeyev of Team Russia (Russia Hockey/FHR.ru)

After an injury-plagued 2020-21 season that saw him only play 35 games split between the VHL and MHL, Zlodeyev is ready to bring his game to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in 2021-22. Despite the time he missed, he excelled in the MHL with MHK Dynamo Moskva finishing with 12 points in 16 games and four points in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the tougher competition as he moves closer and closer to his professional debut in North America.

7. Danila Klimovich (RW)

Acquired: Second Round (41st overall), 2021 Draft
2020-21 Team: Minskie Zubry (Belarus Vysshaya) / Dinamo-Molodechno (Belarus)
2020-21 Stats: 37 GP – 28 G – 24 A – 52 PTS / 6 GP – 1 G – 0 A – 1 PT
2021-22 Projected Team: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) or Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)

Danila Klimovich has an intriguing package of creativity and skill. His shot and one-timer appear to be NHL caliber, and his compete level is off the charts. His skating doesn’t jump off the page as overly elite, but I wouldn’t call it a weakness either. His ceiling may not be that of a top-line forward, but I can definitely see him thriving on the second or third line and power play, especially with his quick release and high motor.

Related: Canucks Add Intriguing Potential At 2021 NHL Draft

After he was drafted, there were concerns that Canucks scouts were evaluating his talent based on five games at the U18s. Russian scout Sergei Chibisov, who has worked with the Canucks since 1995, was more than likely able to scout him in Belarus with Minskie Zubry. Heck, he probably recommended him to director of amateur scouting Todd Harvey. No scout worth his salt would base his evaluation on five games at an international tournament. That’s just the truth.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how he develops once he starts playing for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies or the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks. If Klimovich has his way, he will be a member of the NHL club come opening night as he’s coming to training camp to make the team, not get assigned to the AHL or QMJHL. Even if he doesn’t ultimately force Jim Benning’s hand, you have to admire the determination and confidence this kid has. He will definitely be one to watch when everything gets going in September.

6. Jonah Gadjovich (RW)

Acquired: Second Round (55th overall), 2017 Draft
2020-21 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
2020-21 Stats: 19 GP – 15 G – 3 A – 17 PTS / 1 GP – 0 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Abbotsford Canucks (AHL), frequent call-ups to the Canucks

After a breakout season in the AHL with the Utica Comets in 2020-21, Jonah Gadjovich is ready to compete for a job in the NHL. The rugged power forward blew everyone away with 15 goals and 18 points in 19 games and finally cemented himself as one of the Canucks most promising prospects. Originally drafted 55th overall in 2017, he has developed into a powerful net-front presence adept at putting the puck in the net from the crease. In fact, most of his goals were scored from just a couple of feet from the goaltender.

Related: Canucks Prospect Spotlight: Jonah Gadjovich

Gadjovich also brings size and physicality, along with an improved skating stride that was once one of his weaknesses coming into the professional game. He now gets to pucks quicker on the forecheck and can somewhat pull away from opposing defenders when he’s breaking up the ice. All in all, he is now turning into the player everyone thought he was going to be when he was drafted out of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack.

Jonah Gadjovich Utica Comets
Jonah Gadjovich, Utica Comets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With the fourth line seemingly set with Motte and Brandon Sutter, Gadjovich will have to outcompete the likes of Phil Di Giuseppe, Zack MacEwen, and fellow prospect William Lockwood when camp gets started in a few weeks time. Given his physical game and propensity to stick up for his teammates, he has as good a chance as any of them of making the team. His ability to play up the lineup and potentially see time on the power play could also push him over the top. In my mind, his main competition is MacEwen, as they are both similar players.

5. Aidan McDonough (LW)

Acquired: Seventh Round (195th overall), 2019 Draft
2020-21 Team: Northeastern University (NCAA)
2020-21 Stats: 21 GP – 10 G – 10 A – 20 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Northeastern University (NCAA)

Starting from the bottom, now we’re here. That should be Aidan McDonough’s theme song. Drafted all the way down in the seventh round back in 2019, he has risen into the top five in my rankings and has become a potential diamond in the rough. After an impressive freshman season at Northeastern University where he recorded 11 goals and 27 points in 31 games, he hit the ground running once the 2020-21 season finally got going. Ending his sophomore campaign with seven goals in eight games and five goals and six points over just a weekend, he served notice to everyone that he will be a prospect to watch in the coming years.

Blessed with an NHL-caliber shot and powerful one-timer, McDonough displayed every bit of his skill during that weekend. Every goal was almost a carbon copy as he one-timed three pucks from almost the exact same position on the power play. He then scored another two goals the following night and was eventually named a co-recipient of the Hockey East Player of the Week award.

Related: 3 Canucks Prospects From 2019 Draft Who Could Surprise

If McDonough can improve his footspeed a bit, he could become a top-nine forward one day. He might not hit the heights of the top line, but I could see him as a regular contributor on the second or third line and second unit power play. Even if he only becomes a bottom-six power play specialist, the Canucks hit gold with this young man at 195th overall.

4. Mike DiPietro (G)

Acquired: Third Round (64th overall), 2017 Draft
2020-21 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
2020-21 Stats: 4 GP – 3 W – 2.52 GAA – .916 SV%
2021-22 Projected Team: Abbotsford Canucks (AHL)

The only goaltender in the top ten, Mike DiPietro hasn’t faded into the night since the debacle of his first NHL start against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 11, 2019. In fact, he has probably stricken that date from his memory. Still sporting an ugly 7.02 goals-against average (GAA) and .742 save percentage (SV%) in the NHL, I’m sure he is just chomping at the bit to change those numbers for the better.

Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the world during the 2020-21 season, he was stuck on the taxi squad where he saw a grand total of zero minutes of real game action. It wasn’t until the Canucks called up Arturs Silovs from the Manitoba Moose in April and assigned DiPietro to the Comets that he actually got into a game.

Crediting his mental health coach and goaltending coach Ian Clark for keeping him focused and game-ready, he came out of the gates hot as he finished the season with a 2.52 GAA and .916 SV% in four starts (from ‘Canucks prospect Mike DiPietro’s game, absent games, sees ‘big strides’’, The Province, 5/14/21). His best came during his last start when he made 33 saves on 34 shots in a 3-1 win over the Rochester Americans.

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As everyone knows by now, DiPietro is a small goaltender by modern standards at 6-feet and 201 pounds but he packs a lot into that frame. His cat-like reflexes and overall athleticism make up for his small stature and with Clark’s help, his positioning has become a strength as well.

DiPietro has a bright future in the NHL as a starting goaltender but will have to wait his turn as Thatcher Demko is firmly entrenched as the de facto number one for the Canucks right now. Though, I could see a time where they are a very solid 1a/1b tandem once general manager Jim Benning believes a veteran is no longer needed as a backup. In the meantime, he will be a fan favourite in Abbotsford as they begin their journey as the newest franchise in the AHL.

3. Olli Juolevi (LD)

Acquired: First Round (5th overall), 2016 Draft
2020-21 Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
2020-21 Stats: 23 GP – 2 G – 1 A – 3 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

Finally close to graduating off this list, Olli Juolevi has been a prospect for far too long. His struggle with major injuries have been well-documented, but thankfully, he’s well over that speed bump in his development as he prepares to enter his sophomore season. He has only played 23 regular season games in the NHL, so he is technically still a prospect in my mind.

Related: Canucks Will Have a Battle for the Final Defensive Spot

For the most part, Juolevi had a solid debut in the NHL last season. He did struggle defensively at the end of the season, but I chalk that up to rust after sitting out for an extended period of time. The taxi squad that required teams to keep a set amount of players around was brutal for player development all over the league. Practice is different from game action, and a lot of prospects suffered because they didn’t get enough time competing against players that weren’t from their own team.

Vancouver Canucks' Olli Juolevi
Vancouver Canucks’ Olli Juolevi (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

When Juolevi was in the lineup, he showed tremendous poise with the puck on his breakouts and seemed to gain significant chemistry with Tyler Myers. In fact, Myers played some of his best hockey with him by his side. Similar to how Chris Tanev settled Keith Ballard’s game, Juolevi did the same for Myers. If I was Green, I would have them as my third pairing on opening night.

Regardless of where he starts in the lineup, Juolevi’s time is now to prove that he belongs in the NHL. He has all the tools, now he has to put them together consistently. With his ability to transition the puck out of the zone and kill penalties, the Canucks desperately need him to take the next step in his development this season. Don’t forget, Tanev and Alex Edler are no longer here to form the nucleus of the penalty kill anymore. He’s going to have to shoulder a lot of the load if they are going to have any chance of replacing their presence on the blue line this season.

2. Jack Rathbone (LD)

Acquired: Fourth Round (95th overall), 2017 Draft
2020-21 Team: Utica Comets (AHL) / Vancouver Canucks (NHL)
2020-21 Stats: 8 GP – 2 G – 7 A – 9 PTS / 8 GP – 1 G – 2 A – 3 PTS
2021-22 Projected Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

Coming in at number two is none other than Harvard University alum Jack Rathbone. After a very successful stint in the NCAA where he finished with 14 goals and 53 points in 61 games, he made the move to the AHL and immediately struck gold. His first eight professional games were nothing but gravy as he tallied two goals and nine points and at the same time, gained the trust of his head coach as a top-four defenceman. Not too shabby for a rookie with under 10 games on his resume.

Jack walks the line in the o-zone as good as anybody I’ve seen in this league…His head is always up when he has the puck, and he snaps pucks like an NHLer, you can see that immediately.

Comets Head Coach Trent Cull
Jack Rathbone Vancouver Canucks
Jack Rathbone, Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rathbone’s skating, hockey IQ, and ability to run a power play are all NHL caliber, and it showed when he was eventually called up last April. It took only one game for him to score his first NHL goal and eight games before he was playing over 20 minutes. If all goes well, he will be quarterbacking the second unit power play with the number one prospect on this list in no time.

1. Vasily Podkolzin (RW)

Acquired: First Round (10th overall), 2019 Draft
2020-21 Team: SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) / SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)
2020-21 Stats: 35 GP – 5 G – 6 A – 11 PTS / 1 GP – 0 G – 1 A – 1 PT
2021-22 Projected Team: Vancouver Canucks (NHL)

Only the second first-round pick on this list, Podkolzin is ready to take the NHL by storm. After limited minutes in two seasons in the KHL under SKA St. Petersburg’s head coach Valeri Bragin, he is finally free to pursue a hockey career in North America. Signing a three-year entry-level contract in the offseason, he will be in training camp to battle for a spot in the Canucks lineup.

Related: Canucks Run of Successful Prospects Will Continue With Podkolzin

Fortunately for the Canucks, Podkolzin didn’t let the lack of ice time derail his development. He rose above it and performed admirably in the face of adversity by becoming one of his team’s best players despite the lack of opportunity. When the KHL Playoffs came around, he destroyed the competition with a staggering six goals and 11 points in 16 games, finishing as his team’s top scorer. All of this while playing under 15 minutes a lot of the time.

Vancouver Canucks Prospect Spotlight featuring Vasily Podkolzin
Vince Richards, THW Archives

Podkolzin’s next challenge will be the NHL, and he’s more than capable of replicating the successes of Hoglander, Hughes, Pettersson, and Boeser who were all Calder Trophy caliber players the minute they stepped into the league. He will most likely start with Dickinson and Tanner Pearson on the third line, but I wouldn’t put it past him to surprise everyone by starting in the top six with Hoglander and Bo Horvat either. That’s just how competitive and driven he is. He has everything you want in an NHL player, size, tenacity, playmaking and above all, character like you wouldn’t believe. If he’s not already a fan favourite, he will be the minute he plays his first shift on Rogers Arena ice.

Canucks Need To Start Re-Stocking the Cupboard

Even though the Canucks have some intriguing players coming up from the later rounds of the draft, they are starting to run low on elite, sure-fire prospects. Once Podkolzin and Juolevi graduate at the end of the season, their top prospect won’t be a sexy pick, that’s for sure. As much as I love DiPietro, he’s not really a blue-chipper in most circles. Now entering their third season without a new first-round pick in their pipeline, they need to start holding onto their top picks going into the next few drafts.

Starting with the 2022 Draft, the first round will be filled with potentially elite talent. Even if the Canucks make the playoffs and get a later pick, they should still be able to add a significant talent to their prospect pool. Unfortunately, gone are the days of the Canucks having a top-ranked farm system. It’s time for Benning to stop thinking about the present and start building the next core of the future. If he doesn’t, the era after the core-five won’t be very pretty.

Canucks 2021-22 Top Ten Prospects Recap

  1. Vasily Podkolzin, RW
  2. Jack Rathbone, RD
  3. Olli Juolevi, LD
  4. Mike DiPietro, G
  5. Aidan McDonough, LW
  6. Jonah Gadjovich, RW
  7. Danila Klimovich, RW
  8. Dmitri Zlodeyev, C
  9. Jett Woo, RD
  10. William Lockwood, LW

Stay tuned next week for the 11-20 rankings as we continue to unveil the top-20 and as always, leave a comment below with your thoughts on the top-10!

All stats courtesy of Elite Prospects