We have just passed the midpoint of the 2019-20 season and the top prospects of the Vancouver Canucks have certainly turned some heads. Some have had very impressive starts to their respective seasons, while others seem to have regressed a bit from where they stood before the campaign began. So I thought it would be a good time to re-visit my top 10 prospects list from August and take a closer look at where everyone stands.
The list will have a very different look as Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko have graduated to full-time NHL players. That means there is a new big man on campus. Who now sits atop the mountain that is the Canucks’ prospect class? Read on to find out!
10. Aidan McDonough (LW)
Acquired: Seventh Round (195th overall), 2019 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: North Eastern University Huskies (H-East)
2019-20 Stats: 19 GP – 8 G – 11 A – 19 PTS
After being drafted in the seventh round by the Canucks in 2019, Aidan McDonough has turned quite a few heads playing in the NCAA for North Eastern University. He has developed some impressive chemistry with fellow Canucks’ prospect Tyler Madden and has become a point-a-game player for the team as well. He currently leads the team and all freshman players in power play goals with eight and power play points with 13.
Huskies’ head coach Jim Madigan was expecting him to come in and contribute right away, but I don’t think he envisioned the season he’s having right now.
We expect Aidan to come in and challenge for a top role in our club and to contribute offensively right away. He’s someone who has a very good stick, shoots the puck really well, gets the puck off his stick quickly in the slot area, and can score from 25-feet out as well as scoring in around the net.Huskies head coach Jim Madigan
McDonough’s eight power play goals also rank second in the entire NCAA ahead of notable first-round picks Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte. They both only have five and four respectively. That’s some elite company for a seventh-round pick, wouldn’t you say?
9. Michael DiPietro (G)
Acquired: Third Round (64th overall), 2017 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
2019-20 Stats: 21 GP – 13 W – 2.70 GAA – .908 SV%
Coming into training camp with the Comets Mike DiPietro was expected to compete for the backup position behind Zane McIntyre. Fast forward to now, and he’s virtually taken the starting job away from him. He has shown that his poor debut in the professional leagues was not a sign of things to come.
DiPietro is currently third amongst rookie goaltenders in goals against average (GAA) and fifth in save percentage (SV%). Since the beginning of the season, he has routinely stolen games for the team. Despite being called up to the NHL a couple of times, he has not seen another start. The only time he got was eight minutes of garbage time when Canucks starter Jacob Markstrom gave up five goals to the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec 15.
I’m sure DiPietro would like another crack at it, as his career statistics read a very ugly 7.02 GAA to go along with an equally unpleasant .742 SV%. The only way he can improve upon those stats is to get another start in the NHL. He has the tools to become a starting goaltender in this league. Just looking at his demeanor and personality, I wouldn’t bet against him doing it. He definitely has shown that he’s capable, he just has to continue to work hard until his next curtain call.
8. Brogan Rafferty (D)
Acquired: Undrafted free agent signing
2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
2019-20 Stats: 40 GP – 6 G – 31 A – 37 PTS
Brogan Rafferty has had an eye-opening season, vaulting him from unranked status to the number eight prospect on the Canucks. Ever since the start of the 2019-20 season, he has been a revelation for the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets. Currently leading all defenders in points and tied for eighth overall, he is showing everyone that it was wrong to overlook him in the NHL Draft.
The Canucks have had tremendous success with signing defenders out of the free agent college pool, and that’s a testament to Stan Smyl and his staff. Rafferty will probably join defenders Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher as some of the greatest hits to come out of the college songbook.
Throughout the season he has shown NHL ready skills, from his smooth skating, soft hands and incredible shot on the power play. Look no further than his recent short-handed goal against the Hartford Wolf Pack for a preview of what he can bring to a lineup. I will give you some time to pick your jaw up off the floor before we continue.
The 24-year-old from Naperville, Illinois is on the cusp of becoming a full-time NHL defenceman. With everyone healthy in Vancouver, there really is no spot for him on the blueline unless general manager Jim Benning makes a trade.
Until then, Rafferty will continue to dominate the AHL and potentially win the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award awarded to the league’s top rookie at the end of the season. Imagine if Hughes wins the Calder Trophy in the NHL as well? That would be quite the coup for the Canucks.
7. Kole Lind (RW)
Acquired: Second Round (33rd overall), 2017 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
2019-20 Stats: 42 GP – 12 G – 25 A – 37 PTS
Joining Rafferty on the revelation list is Kole Lind. After struggling mightily in his first go-around, it looks like he’s now figured out the pro game. He currently has 37 points in 42 games which is already 22 more points than he had all of last season.
I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised, as he’s just following the same script from his junior days in the Western Hockey League when he went from 41 points in his rookie season to a whopping 87 points in his second season. Someone must not have told him about the sophomore slump, as he’s had a sophomore resurgence instead.
The things Lind did well in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets have come alive this season. His speed, tenacity, and willingness to go to the net have been on full display all season long. He has become a key member of the Comets playing on a line with the white-hot Justin Bailey, putting up 11 points in his last 10 games. It’s safe to say he has arrived and is playing up to his status of a high second-round pick.
Some may have written Lind off after last season, but he is showing that he could still become a solid NHLer one day. If and when the Canucks have injuries in their top-six he should be one of the first callups.
6. Jett Woo (D)
Acquired: Second Round (37th overall), 2018 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
2019-20 Stats: 42 GP – 6 G – 21 A – 27 PTS
Jett Woo’s first season with the Calgary Hitmen has not been as successful as his days with the Moose Jaw Warriors. After putting up 66 points (12 goals, 54 assists) in 62 games in 2018-19, he is falling well short of matching that in his final season of junior eligibility. Though numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
Joining a new team with a new coach always comes with an adjustment period. Woo is also not in the same role in Calgary as he was in Moose Jaw. He’s being used more in a defensive role this season with the Hitmen and is not free to join the offence as much.
His physical presence has not been as prevalent as well, which is usually a hallmark of his game. However, being left behind by Team Canada for the World Junior Championship for the second straight year seems to have ignited his game as he recently had a seven-game point streak snapped and has eight points in his last ten games.
Hopefully, Woo will finish his junior career strong and bring his toolbox to the AHL where he will look to start his pro career off on the right foot. His physicality and mobility should fit in nicely with what the Canucks are building on the backend right now. If all goes well, he could form a very effective pairing with the dynamic and exciting Quinn Hughes. If that happens, we should look forward to many seasons of the “Woooo!” chant at Rogers Arena.
5. Olli Juolevi (D)
Acquired: First Round (fifth overall), 2016 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: Utica Comets (AHL)
2019-20 Stats: 33 GP – 2 G – 17 A – 19 PTS
Olli Juolevi’s career has seen its fair share of ups and downs. The downs usually due to injuries and rehab. This season has been no different as he’s already missed games due to injury. But since he’s come back into the Comets’ lineup, he’s hit the ground running putting up 11 points in his last 11 games. Another key thing to note is that he’s also a plus-11 over that same span, so he’s getting it done at both ends of the ice.
Juolevi has not been called up to the NHL, even though the Canucks have had some injuries on the backend this season. Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jalen Chatfield were all called up instead. This probably has nothing to do with performance, as they did not get any significant time in the lineup. It’s probably better for Juolevi’s development to play a lot of minutes in the AHL rather than sit in the press box or get limited ice time in the NHL.
If Juolevi can stay out of the infirmary and continue his current upward trajectory, he could find himself being a call-up option for the Canucks this season. But again, similar to Rafferty, roster moves will have to be made for this to happen. He is still a legitimate prospect for the team moving forward, and I still believe he can become a solid defenceman in the NHL. We just have to be patient a little longer.
4. Jack Rathbone (D)
Acquired: Fourth Round (95th overall), 2017 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: Harvard University (ECAC)
2019-20 Stats: 16 GP – 4 G – 12 A – 16 PTS
Another riser on this list is Harvard University’s sophomore defender Jack Rathbone. Despite losing elite defence partner Adam Fox to the New York Rangers, he has thrived. Taking on a leadership role and more responsibilities, you would be right to expect a bit of a drop-off. Though instead of slumping, he’s become a point-a-game defender in the college ranks.
Throughout the season he has showcased his accurate wrist shot, deft passing, and powerful skating. The 2017 fourth-round pick is showing us once again that it doesn’t matter when you’re drafted, it only matters how you perform afterward. Judging by his overall package, he has become one of the most underrated prospects the Canucks have in their system. assistant director of player development Chris Higgins even thinks he could run the Comets’ power play right now!
His performance so far this season has elevated him to the top ten list and is a legitimate threat to become an NHL defenceman. Unfortunately, he could play his entire four years at Harvard and not wear Canucks colours until the 2022-23 season. On the other hand, he could also be here as early as April, which would present a problem with all the defenders currently signed and the cap space available right now. Nevertheless, when he does finally come to Vancouver, it will be worth the wait.
3. Tyler Madden (C)
Acquired: Third Round (68th overall), 2018 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: North Eastern University Huskies (H-East)
2019-20 Stats: 22 GP – 16 G – 15 A – 31 PTS
To say that Tyler Madden’s season has been solid so far would be an understatement. All he has done is lead his team in scoring, set a new career-high in points with 31 and be a candidate for the Hobey Baker award. Just like many of the prospects on this list, he is exceeding expectations and showing us why draft position rarely matters in this sport.
Madden has filled in nicely for Adam Gaudette in the top-line center role for the Huskies. In the past, he was known more for his playmaking abilities, this season he has become more of a well-rounded centerman by adding goal scoring to his resume. His 16 goals are already four more than his freshman campaign and the season isn’t even over yet. That total also has him tied for second in the entire NCAA over many other first-round picks.
In a few short months, the Canucks should have another college star knocking on the door of the NHL. He will join Josh Teves, Rafferty, Hughes and Gaudette as recent graduates from the NCAA to the pro ranks. If all goes well, we could see him in the blue and green as soon as next season.
2. Nils Hoglander (LW)
Acquired: Second Round (40th overall), 2019 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: Rogle BK Angelholm (SweHL)
2019-20 Stats: 23 GP – 6 G – 5 A – 11 PTS
Nils Hoglander has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately with his two lacrosse style goals and dominating performance at the 2020 World Junior Championship. As we all know, success at this tournament doesn’t always translate to the NHL, just look to former Canucks’ prospect Jordan Schroeder for an example. However, that should not discount what Hoglander was able to do for Team Sweden at this year’s WJC.
Hoglander was a force from the first puck drop and continued it all the way to the final game where Sweden won a bronze medal over their rivals from Finland. The only blemish he had was an early game ejection in the semi-finals, which his team ultimately lost in overtime to the Russians. Who knows what could have been if he was available to play that entire contest.
Despite that, he still finished the tournament with 11 points (five goals, six assists) and solidified his status as one of the top prospects the Canucks have right now.
The skills Hoglander has displayed in the Swedish Hockey League and World Junior Championship should have Canucks fans salivating at the prospect of his debut in the NHL. His size could still be an issue, but as we have seen with another Swedish star employed on the West Coast, that shouldn’t matter too much.
We will be watching intently as he continues to dazzle overseas and move closer and closer to bringing his talents to Rogers Arena and the waiting arms of Canucks Nation.
1. Vasili Podkolzin (RW)
Acquired: First Round (10th overall), 2019 NHL Draft
2019-20 Team: St. Petersburg SKA (KHL) / SKA Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)
2019-20 Stats: 17 GP – 0 G – 0 A – 0 PTS / 16 GP – 3 G – 5 A – 8 PTS
Vasili Podkolzin’s season has been less than ideal for the Canucks. He has not been a permanent fixture on his Kontinental Hockey League’s team and when he was there, he never played. Despite this, he still should be considered the top prospect on the team right now. I had Hoglander above him in my rankings in the summer, but watching him in the WJC this year changed my mind. His strength, hockey sense and NHL readiness tipped the scales for me.
Podkolzin looked like a man amongst boys displaying his speed and physicality throughout the tournament. He didn’t put up the same point totals Hoglander did, but that had more to do with his linemates’ lack of execution than his elite playmaking skills.
It’s unfortunate that he has one more year in the KHL before he can ply his trade with the Canucks. I believe he could be a top-six forward right now, but I guess we will have to exercise the virtue of patience and wait to open the gift that is Podkolzin. When that day finally comes, I’m sure we will see that the saying is true, all good things come to those who wait.
So there you have it, the updated rankings of the top ten Canucks prospects. The 2019-20 season is half over now, and the race is on to make the playoffs. Let’s enjoy it and hope that we can finally see some hockey at Rogers Arena in late April!
**All statistics are current as of Jan 19**
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer 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.
Matthew also co-hosts The Hockey Writers Prospect Corner on YouTube.