Prospect development is rarely a straight line. Few demonstrate that better than Jett Woo, who got called up from the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday.
It's been six years since the 23-year-old defenceman was drafted by the Canucks in the second round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and those six years have been a rollercoaster for Woo.
In his first post-draft season, Woo exploded, putting up 66 points in 62 games to finish fifth among WHL defencemen in points, with the same points-per-game as top prospect Bowen Byram. Considering he was drafted as a physical defensive defenceman, that giant jump in his offensive game was seen as a positive sign for his NHL potential.
Woo was clearly the best right-shot defenceman in the Canucks' system and a key part of the Canucks future. But that's when things started to go awry.
In his final season in the WHL, Woo was traded to the Calgary Hitmen and his offensive game regressed, with just 46 points in 64 games. His first season in the AHL in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season was underwhelming but his second season in the AHL was an outright disaster.
Woo's career completely stalled in the 2021-22 season. He was a frequent healthy scratch and, when he did get into the lineup, it was often as a fourth-line forward. In essence, Abbotsford Canucks head coach Trent Cull stopped developing Woo as a defenceman and that seemed to be the end of his NHL potential. It was a symptom of significant development issues in the Canucks' system.
Cull getting promoted to assistant coach in Vancouver for the 2022-23 season might have saved Woo's career. A new coach in Jeremy Colliton, along with an overhauled development department, helped turn things around for the beleaguered defenceman.
Woo played a significant role for Colliton's Canucks, eating up major minutes defensively and putting up 7 goals and 21 points in 68 games offensively. He stepped up his game physically, not just with big open-ice hits — though he certainly had those — but with winning battles along the boards and in front of the net.
Woo's progression and his right-hand shot put him back in the conversation to play NHL games, even if his ceiling is not as high as it once was.
"This year, his growth in his game, building his identity as a player, as a puck-moving, physical, heavy [player]. And he contributed offensively as well, he even played on the second unit power play at times,” said Abbotsford Canucks general manager Ryan Johnson. “He’s shot himself forward, that’s for sure.”
Woo is currently playing on the top pairing in Abbotsford, albeit on a blue line that has seen some significant injuries with Christian Wolanin, Akito Hirose, and Filip Johansson all out of the lineup. Already on the first penalty kill unit, Woo is even playing on the first power play unit with Wolanin out. He has 5 goals and 16 points through 42 games — middling numbers but offence was never his calling card.
Now, with Carson Soucy officially on Injured Reserve, Woo got the call from the Vancouver Canucks.
The call-up to the Canucks is a great vote of confidence for Woo. He might not actually play any NHL games during this call-up — he's likely just injury insurance while Nikita Zadorov serves out the final game of his two-game suspension — but it will get him a decent chunk of NHL cash on his two-way contract and some practice time with an NHL coaching staff. With the Abbotsford Canucks not playing again until Saturday, Woo might not even miss a game, assuming he gets sent back down when Zadorov returns.
Still, it's a positive sign for a prospect who was nearly a write-off just two seasons ago. With the grind of the playoffs on the way, the Canucks might have need of Woo in the future.