The Vancouver Canucks have signed two seventh-round picks in less than a week.
On Friday, the Canucks inked their 2022 seventh-round pick, Kirill Kudryavtsev, to an entry-level contract. On Monday, it was Aidan McDonough's turn.
The Canucks picked McDonough in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, taking a chance on the big winger in his second year of draft eligibility after he put up 42 points in 50 games in the USHL.
McDonough quickly rewarded their confidence in him by putting together an outstanding NCAA career. He finished his four years at Northeastern University with exactly a point per game, scoring 66 goals and 124 points in 124 games. In his senior year, he was named captain of Northeastern and finished in the top-25 in scoring in college hockey with 20 goals and 38 points in 34 games.
The fact that he played four years in the NCAA had some worried that McDonough might not sign with the Canucks. He had the option of waiting until August 15th to become a free agent, at which point he could sign with any team in the NHL.
McDonough chose to stick with the team that drafted him, however, signing with the Canucks after his Northeastern Huskies were knocked out of the postseason by Providence College on Saturday night.
There are a few reasons why McDonough would stick with the Canucks. One is that the Canucks' development department, headed up by Cammi Granato and Ryan Johnson, has been proactive with their communication with drafted prospects, maintaining strong relationships with each player. General manager Patrik Allvin has gotten involved as well, meeting personally with McDonough on a trip to Boston, and assistant general manager Emilie Castonguay has also kept in touch with McDonough and his family adviser.
Another reason why the Canucks got McDonough signed is that he already has a connection to the Canucks organization, as he is good friends with prospect Jack Rathbone.
The biggest advantage the Canucks had in getting him signed, however, is that they could get him in NHL games right away. It's expected that McDonough will suit up for the Canucks this season, eating one year of his two-year entry-level contract. Not only does McDonough get to play in the NHL sooner than if he had waited to become a free agent in the summer, but signing with the Canucks now also gets him to his second contract a year earlier, in this case after the 2023-24 season.
So, what can Canucks fans expect from McDonough?
First and foremost, McDonough has an excellent shot. His release is NHL-caliber and he can get his shot off in multiple ways. He's known for his one-timer from the right faceoff circle on the power play, but he also has a quick-release snapshot in traffic, a heavy wrist shot, and great hands in front of the net to bang in rebounds and backdoor passes.
McDonough does his best work off the puck, finding gaps in coverage, drifting unnoticed into open space — not easy at 6'2", 201 lbs — or actively jumping into space to convert on his teammate's passes. That said, he's also an underrated playmaker. He can protect the puck with his sizeable frame and then place it on the tape through layers of traffic. He's as adept at passing on his backhand as he is on his forehand and it's a trait that could translate to the NHL.
Another aspect of McDonough's off-the-puck game is his physicality. He's a menace on the forecheck and can throw some big hits.
Defensively, McDonough is capable enough, though it's never been a focus of his game. He's got the reach to take away passing lanes and poke pucks off sticks and the strength along the boards to win battles, but it's hard to say how his defensive game will translate to the NHL, where his ability to read the game will be tested at a higher level than it has been in college hockey. That said, his hockey IQ is very high in the offensive end and he's able to read the play effectively off the puck.
The fundamental issue for McDonough is his skating. It has improved since his draft year as he's worked with a power skating coach but his feet are still as heavy as his game. It's something that didn't prove detrimental in college hockey, as he had no problems keeping up with the pace of play and was able to use his hockey sense to make up for any deficiencies in his skating.
At the NHL level, however, McDonough's skating could make or break his game. If he can get to at least NHL-average with his skating, he could carve out a bottom-six role in the NHL, perhaps with some time on the second power play unit. If he can't, he's likely to top out as a very good top-six forward in the AHL.
A growth spurt in high school is partly to blame, as he shot up from 5'8" in his freshman year to 6'2" a few years later, leading to some awkwardness in his skating stride.
“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.”
At 23, there's a limit to how much more McDonough's game can develop, but he already has some NHL-level tools. Canucks fans and management alike should get a chance to see how those tools translate to the NHL this season.