Canucks: How Jett Woo found his way back to big-upside prospect

Jett Woo isn’t the only Canucks prospect who re-discovered his potential with Jeremy Colliton’s Abbotsford Canucks in 2022-23.

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Jett Woo regrets not making the NHL last season. This is the year, he hopes.

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He is in a position to lament how his 2022-23 season went, which shows how different his potential career looks now compared to even a year ago, when “busted prospect” was being whispered by observers of the Vancouver Canucks.

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The 2021-22 season had been a struggle for the promising hard-rock defenceman. That was the 2018 second-round draft pick’s second professional season and it was a struggle. He was often a healthy scratch, and when he did get in the lineup, he often skated as a forward.

It seemed he was roster filler, a player who was suiting up because there was no one else.

That was a far cry from the player the Canucks hoped would develop into mid-range defensive stalwart.

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Generally, second-picks stand a good chance of playing in the NHL, especially five years out. Seventeen of the 31 players picked in the 2018 second round have suited up for NHL contests; 22 of 31 players picked in the 2017 second round.

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Last season Woo got himself back on course and new AHL head coach Jeremy Colliton brought a breath of fresh air to a squad that needed a new voice. Under Colliton, Abbotsford made the second round of the playoffs. More importantly, just about every Canucks prospect who suited up in Abbotsford put a shine on their potential.

Earlier this year Abbotsford Canucks GM Ryan Johnson said Woo had found his identity again and thought he might even play NHL games in the 2023-24 season.

Woo said he was disappointed he didn’t suit up in an NHL game. It was a goal he’d set for himself coming into the season, even if the previous season didn’t go as planned.

“I try to make goals that I know I can make and goals that are pretty far out there,” he said this week after skating with his teammates at the University of B.C. ahead of the beginning of the Canucks’ NHL training camp in Victora. “I know I’m someone that strives toward things like that and I think if I make some high goals that makes puts me in a good spot.”

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Finding NHL minutes will only happen if he puts his best foot forward. And that means staying focused.

“I’ve just got to be noticeable at camp. I’ve got to be smart. Move pucks. Be simple. And play hard on D. Even though I got some points last year, I think the staple of my game is playing hard D and being someone they can rely on in most situations,” he said.

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“I grew up always playing defence-first. I know I’m someone that can impact the game playing D and making hits and playing smart in the D zone. And I’m someone that, you know, guys don’t want to go up against in practice and in games. So I think just keep that up and try to make that into the NHL game too.”

Woo’s assessment echoed what the Canucks then-director of amateur scouting Judd Brackett said after the 2018 draft.

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“He kept pretty calculated when he joined the rush,” Bracket said at the time. “His ability to defend is what stands out.”

Being a right-shot defenceman helps. The Canucks have a long list of defencemen who can play on the left and who will be fighting for a call-up, but on the right side, the path to a call-up is clearer. If Woo doesn’t make the Canucks to start the season, he’ll likely have just a single rival on the right side of the Abbotsford blueline for an initial call-up, either Noah Juulsen, who impressed the NHL coaching staff late last season, or Matt Irwin, who the Canucks signed as a veteran depth presence this summer.

For Woo, the time is just about now.

At 23, he says he’s found his strength. And he’s weighing in at just over 200 pounds, a size he’s comfortable with.

“I feel fast. I feel strong,” he said.

DOUBLE IT — Woo — who wore 4 last season for Abbotsford but was tentatively assigned 52 if he been called up to Vancouver last season — is set to sport No. 44 this season. “What’s better that one four? Two,” he quipped when asked about the number change.

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