Ed Willes: Canucks prospect Jonah Gadjovich is a most determined fella


Vancouver Canucks second round draft pick Jonah Gadjovich (left) has made Team Canada's roster for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

Vancouver Canucks second round draft pick Jonah Gadjovich (left) has made Team Canada's roster for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

Photograph by: Julie Jocsak, The Province

Our present to you, a Christmas edition of the musings and meditations on the world of sports.

Jonah Gadjovich understands he was considered a long shot to make Team Canada but a quick look at his brief career suggests the Canucks’ draft pick isn’t exactly fazed by the underdog’s role.

Growing up in Whitby, Ont., he played mostly house league before he caught on with the AAA Bantam Wildcats as a 14-year-old. After two largely forgettable seasons with the Owen Sound Attack, he entered his draft year projected at, as best, a mid-rounder. On the Attack, he’s been overshadowed by Vegas first-rounder Nick Suzuki, a player who also seemed destined to wear the maple leaf at the World Juniors in Buffalo this holiday season.

But here’s the other thing you should know about Gadjovich. Each step of his journey he refused to let others define him or determine his limitations. After his slow start in minor hockey, he would become a second-round draft pick of the Attack. In his NHL draft year he jumped to 60th in Central Scouting’s midterm rankings and stood 39th at the end of the year after a 46-goal, 74-point season with the Attack. The Canucks eventually took him in the second round with the 55th pick.

This year, he put his head down at the Team Canada camp and won a spot over more heralded candidates like Portland’s Cody Glass and Suzuki, surprising — it seems — everyone but himself.

“You know what, I’m sure there were people who didn’t think I’d make the team,” Gadjovich says. “But I knew I was going to find a way to make the team. I’m a pretty determined person.

“Growing up I was never the best player. I just wanted to improve every year and I think I’ve done that.”

Now he takes the biggest step of his career. In Canada’s two pre-tournament games — an 8-1 romp over Switzerland and a 9-0 demolition of the Czechs — Gadjovich picked up a goal and two assists playing largely on a line with Devils first-rounder Mike McLeod and Swift Current scoring machine Tyler Steenbergen.

The Canadian entry in Buffalo might be lacking star power but it’s deep, balanced and plays the game at warp factor six. They’re in tough in their pool against Finland, Sweden and the United States this year, but those two performances against the Swiss and Czechs identifies them as a favourite.

“When I’m playing in Owen Sound we’ve got the town behind us,” says Gadjovich. “Playing for Canada we have the whole country behind us. It’s definitely different.

“Even when I was younger I expected Canada to win the tournament and that hasn’t changed. We just have to find a way here to win the gold.”

As for the next phase, the 19-year-old with the 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame projects as a power-forward type with top-six potential. True, there are questions about his quickness but he plays a pro game with a pro’s attention to detail.

Bet on him finding a way. He is, after all, a determined person.

This year’s WJC will be a proving ground for any number of prospects, but the Canucks and their congregation will want to see a dominating performance from Olli Juolevi on the Finnish team. This tournament is loaded with blue-chip blue liners — Canada’s Cale Makar, Victor Mete and Jake Bean; Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin and Timothy Liljegren; Miro Heiskanen and three other NHL first-rounders from the Finns — but this is Juolevi’s third trip to the WJC. He’s reportedly made strides this year playing for Sami Salo in Turku. We’ll see if that’s the case.

It says so much about this Seahawks season that, after their courageous win over the Cowboys on Sunday, safety Earl Thomas told the ’Boys to, “Come get me” this off-season, signalling his preference for where he wishes to play in 2018.

Still, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Pete Carroll’s team.

Following their 42-7 loss to the Rams two weeks ago the Seahawks looked deader than Moe Green. Now, they need a win over the Cardinals in their regular-season finale next weekend coupled with a Carolina win over Atlanta.

Not sure if they’ll be able to replicate their effort against the Cowboys — they won with Russell Wilson throwing for 93 yards and 136 yards in net offence — but the defence regained some of its old snarl.

Don’t know if you’d bet on them making the playoffs. But you wouldn’t bet against it either.

Like to thank the Buffalo Bills for the wild two-game ride on their bandwagon, but it looks like it might have come to an end against Tom Brady on Sunday. It was fun while it lasted.

Hands up if you saw Vegas leading the West at the Christmas break and on pace for a 116-point season. The Golden Knights’ success, in fact, is so unexpected, it’s drawn the attention of The Economist, the London-based business mag which dropped this gem into its article:

“Cobbling together their initial rosters from the detritus incumbent clubs choose to make available, expansion teams typically need several years to develop young talent and acquire appropriate veterans. … The latest addition to the NHL ranks, however, is the Las Vegas Golden Knights who are charting a new course.”

Just the way I would have phrased it.

And finally, at the Christmas break, the Vancouver Canucks sat 27th in the NHL and 14th out of 15 teams in the West.

Since Bo Horvat went down on Dec. 7 they’re 1-7-1. Horvat won’t be returning to the lineup until the end of January, all of which suggests the Canucks are headed for another finish in the NHL’s root cellar.

The question now becomes can GM Jim Benning and his assistant, John Weisbrod, survive such a finish, because here’s the other story to emerge this season. On top of the won-loss record, the Canucks have fallen to 18th in NHL attendance this season.

OK, they’re still averaging 17,741 per game according to ESPN, but the larger issue is the lack of energy and excitement in Rogers Arena on game nights. Saturday night, the St. Louis Blues came to town in the Canucks’ last game before Christmas and the The Rog was largely lifeless. The Canucks still have 45 games left on their schedule and 22 home dates. If they continue to lose, what are things going to look like in March?

Even the most casual fan is aware the Canucks have high-end prospects in the pipeline and Brock Boeser has given the organization a legitimate star in the making. There are better days ahead but the stated goal of the organization has been to compete for a playoff spot while developing young players, and the Canucks were coming off 28th- and 29th-place finishes before this season.

The faithful might be willing to wait for those better days to arrive. Just not sure about ownership.


Vancouver Canucks second round draft pick Jonah Gadjovich (left) has made Team Canada's roster for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

Vancouver Canucks second round draft pick Jonah Gadjovich (left) has made Team Canada's roster for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.

Photograph by: Julie Jocsak, The Province

Vancouver Canucks second round draft pick Jonah Gadjovich (left) has made Team Canada's roster for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
Canada's Jonah Gadjovich (26) has his attempt on goal stopped by USports goalie Colton Point (1) during first period exhibition action at the Canadian national junior team selection in St. Catharines, Ont., on Wednesday, December 13, 2017.
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Olli Juolevi skates during NHL preseason hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets at the Young Stars Classic held at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.
Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys and Damien Wilson of the Dallas Cowboys combine to tackle Thomas Rawls of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter of a football game at AT&T Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Arlington, Texas.
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