For the last several years, the Vancouver Canucks have had a prospect pipeline running through Northeastern University in the NCAA.
Perhaps it can be credited to Judd Brackett, who was a goaltender at Northeastern for a year in his playing days, or maybe it was just coincidence, but the Canucks have had three prospects in recent years step onto the ice for the Huskies.
Adam Gaudette, the Canucks’ fifth-round pick in 2015, thrived at Northeastern, tallying 68 goals and 142 points in 116 games for the Huskies and winning the Hobey Baker Award in his Junior year.
Next was Tyler Madden, selected in the third round by the Caanucks in 2018. He followed in Gaudette’s footsteps at Northeastern, putting up 65 points in 63 games in two seasons.
Finally, there’s Aidan McDonough, a seventh-round pick in 2019. Through his first two seasons at Northeastern, he’s scored 47 points in 52 games.
"McDonough's defining quality is his release."
Of course, Gaudette and Madden are no longer in the organization after a pair of trades but McDonough is still a strong prospect for the Canucks, ranked sixth in the system during the summer by Elite Prospects.
“McDonough’s defining quality is his release,” said Cam Robinson of EP Rinkside. “The 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger can let it rip with quickness, precision and clarity. He's deadly from the circles on the man-advantage.”
That’s what makes the start of McDonough’s 2021-22 season so intriguing: none of his five goals have come on the power play.
McDonough had 10 goals in 21 games last season. He’s already halfway to that total this season in just four games. It’s a tremendous start for the 21-year-old McDonough that has him tied for fourth in goalscoring in the nation.
Here are all five goals he’s scored so far.
McDonough’s first goal is a tap-in after some nifty work by his linemates, who Canucks fans will be delighted to know are twins: Ty and Dylan Jackson. Twin hockey players are a relative rarity and it’s neat to see a Canucks prospect playing with a pair of them on a top line.
Oddly enough, one of the twins, right winger Dylan, shoots right and the other, centre Ty Jackson, shoots left. Dylan chips the puck towards the net on the backhand, and Ty reaches out to smartly knock the puck to the backdoor for McDonough to put home.
McDonough’s other four goals, however, showcase his excellent shot.
Out of some chaos in front of the Bentley goal, defenceman Jayden Struble comes out with the puck and moves to the right side boards. McDonough smartly rotates up to the hashmarks unnoticed, giving him plenty of time and space to fire home the puck.
The third goal is similar: off a turnover, McDonough finds a soft spot in coverage and Ty hits him with a backhand feed. McDonough’s quick catch and release is stunning.
McDonough’s fourth goal is off the rush. Ty drives to the net and Dylan spots the trailing McDonough, who rips a hard shot just inside the post, giving the goaltender no chance to make the save.
Finally, the fifth goal comes once again off the rush. Dylan springs his brother and McDonough on a 2-on-1. McDonough chooses to keep the puck and it’s a great decision: after settling the puck, he fires a laser over the goaltender’s glove into the top corner.
McDonough has top-six potential
Before getting too overhyped (he’s on pace for 50 goals in 40 games, the most goals in a college season in over 30 years!) it should be noted that McDonough has scored these 5 goals on a mere 11 shots on goal. Even the greatest goalscorers don’t maintain a 45.5% shooting percentage. If he wants to keep racking up the goals, he’ll need to start getting more shots.
That said, McDonough still hasn’t scored on the power play yet and that’s been his bread and butter in the NCAA, with 15 of his 21 goals over the last two seasons coming on the power play. Once Northeastern gets their power play rolling, McDonough will definitely pick up some goals with the man advantage.
McDonough has the potential to be a top-six forward for the Canucks but he’s more likely to slot into a bottom-six role if he makes the NHL. He has good size and uses it effectively on the forecheck and he’s a smart player, which you can see in his ability to find soft spots in coverage in the offensive zone.
What might hold him back is his skating. It was an issue in his first year of draft eligibility and was one of the reasons he slipped through the draft, and it was still an issue when the Canucks took him in the seventh round in his second year of eligibility. Part of the issue is that McDonough went through several growth spurts, jumping from 5’8” as a high school freshman to 6’2” by the time he hit college.
“It’s something that I’ve had to work on, ever since I hit a growth spurt in my high school career — getting faster, being more explosive, working on my first three steps,” said McDonough about his skating after he was drafted. “If you’re getting to pucks quicker, then you’re able to win those battles. I’m a bigger guy, I’ve got longer strides. If I put on a little more muscle and get a little more power in my legs, then I can work on my first three steps, to be a little more explosive, so I can get to those areas and use my shot and size.”
"I feel a lot more confident on my skates."
This past offseason, McDonough worked with power skating coach Dena Taylor and made some major strides in that area of his game.
“I already feel the difference when I’m on the ice,” said McDonough on the Canucks Conversation podcast. “I feel a lot more confident on my skates, my edges, and I feel confident over my skates and in the corners, cutbacks — we’re working on crossover acceleration as well. It’s an hour and a half, once or twice a week with no pucks, so it’s not the most fun but it’s been really good for my skating.”
So far, the work on his skating seems to have helped and it could play a big role in his potential NHL future. One of the positive areas of his game is his work on the forecheck but, if he can’t get in on the forecheck with speed, he won’t be effective at the NHL level.
As to when that could be, there’s a chance that McDonough might play for the Canucks as early as this season. McDonough could very well be one of the best goalscorers in the NCAA this season and the Canucks could push to sign him as soon as his season is over, with the promise of a couple of NHL games used to sweeten the deal.
Even if Northeastern makes the Frozen Four and plays for the NCAA Championship, the latest McDonough’s season could go is April 9. That would still leave eight more games in the Canucks’ schedule for McDonough to potentially get in the lineup, much like Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Gaudette did before him.
That’s far off in the future, of course. For now, McDonough will just be looking to improve Northeastern’s 2-2 record with a few more goals.