The Canucks have made a habit of dipping into the USHL at the NHL Entry Draft under Jim Benning and have had a lot of success doing so. There’s Brock Boeser, of course, but also Adam Gaudette, Will Lockwood, and Tyler Madden, all of whom thrived in college hockey.
Boeser is a key part of the Canucks’ core, Gaudette looks like a solid NHLer, and Lockwood and Madden are two of the Canucks’ top prospects at forward. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that they turned to the USHL again in 2019, taking two more forwards late in the draft: Jack Malone and Aidan McDonough.
The latter of those two has a fun Canucks connection: he’s childhood friends with now-fellow Canucks prospect Jack Rathbone.
“Actually, his dad coached me from first grade to my senior year of high school, so for 12 years,” said McDonough at Canucks development camp. “Me and Jack have been really close our whole life and he was one of the first people to text me after I got drafted.”
“My dad says sometimes, if you want your daughter to marry someone, that's the guy you want,” he added, with a grin on his face.
That grin never seemed to leave McDonough’s face, as he seemed thrilled to be drafted by the Canucks and actually at camp wearing Canucks’ colours. He made it clear that there was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be than in Vancouver, working his tail off on the ice. In fact, he had to cut a holiday short to come here, as he was vacationing with friends when he found out he was drafted.
“I was actually on vacation with a few of my friends in Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Boston,” said McDonough, “and I found out I got the call and everyone's going crazy...I actually took the ferry home that night and flew out the next morning. So it's been kind of a whirlwind these last couple days, but it's been awesome.”
McDonough wasn’t watching the draft because he was in his second year of draft eligibility and was keeping his expectations low. Last year, after some buzz that he would be a late-round pick, he watched the entire draft on television and came away disappointed. Instead of wallowing in that disappointment, he turned it into motivation.
Last season was McDonough’s first in the USHL, as he stayed in high school hockey for his draft year. After an early injury kept him off the ice to start the season, he had a solid year, scoring 21 goals and 42 points in 50 games, with Hockey Prospect noting that many of those goals and points coming from power forward type moves.
“I think I'm still growing and getting faster and stronger, but I think my goal is to be a power forward that can score goals,” said McDonough. “I love to shoot the puck. I love to make plays in the offensive zone. I think my strengths now are my shot, my hockey IQ, my body.”
According to Hockey Prospect, McDonough was his team’s best player in the playoffs, tallying 4 goals and 7 points in 6 games.
“[McDonough] has added tremendous strength in the last year and has a good combination of size, speed and power in his game,” reads his scouting report from Hockey Prospect. “While his skill isn’t eye popping, and he lacks the high end playmaking ability of some of the players at the top of draft lists, he possesses decent hands off the rush and the ability to quickly get his shot off, whether it is in traffic or in shooting in stride off the rush.”
Hockey Prospect also praises his commitment away from the puck and his “honest effort night in and night out.” In fact, they were high on him last year and were caught by surprise when he didn't get drafted.
One area of weakness in his game is his acceleration. Though he has good top speed and plays a typical north-south power forward game, his first two steps need to improve, which he readily admits and says he’ll be working on over the summer. One of the reasons it needs improvement is that he was a bit of a late bloomer physically.
“My sophomore year I was about 5'8", 150 lbs and then shot up to about 5'11" at the end of the year,” said McDonough. “And then junior year, I was about 6'1". And I've kind of been slowly growing ever since then.”
McDonough is now 6’3” and 190 lbs, which is a solid frame for a power forward at the NHL level. The trick is adjusting to his new dimensions, though in some way it has been an advantage.
“It was awkward at first — skating, your balance, coordination, things like that,” he said. “I was small and had to learn how to play like that… You have to make quick decisions and keep your head up and have a good hockey sense. So I think that's helped me a lot.”
McDonough is heading to an excellent hockey program at Northeastern University in the fall, which is where Gaudette played his college hockey. He’ll join Madden there and the two have already connected while roommates at development camp.
“I didn't really know him, but I played against him a lot when I was younger,” said McDonough. “We were on the same flight and we're roommates and then I'll obviously be with him for the next couple years, so it's it's really cool to get to pick his brain and be friends with him.”
One of the benefits of heading to Northeastern is that they’re not shy about giving playing opportunities to incoming freshmen. Some hockey programs limit the ice time for freshmen, preferring to play their junior and senior players, but Madden immediately got ice time as a freshman last year, putting up 28 points in 36 games.
“They had some some guys leave in their graduating class, so I think there'll be a good chance for any of our freshmen coming in,” said McDonough. “I think the way they develop players is huge, that's one of the main reasons I went there.”
“We expect Aidan to come in and challenge for a top role in our club and to contribute offensively right away,” said Northeastern’s head coach Jim Madigan. “He's someone who has a very good stick, shoots the puck really well, gets the puck off his stick quickly in the slot area, and can score from 25-feet out as well as scoring in around the net.”
Around the net is where McDonough likes to be, pointing to Jamie Benn as an NHL player he admires and attempts to emulate.
“He's a left shot, he's really strong, he's powerful, he's pretty big,” listed McDonough. “He gets to the front of the net and scores goals, that's where I like to play… He's pretty tough too, he's not afraid to throw the weight around and drop the gloves if need be.”
While McDonough won’t be dropping the gloves over the next couple years — the NCAA is very strict about fighting — but he’ll still get an opportunity to prove himself in a heavy, physical league. The playing schedule will also work to his advantage, as college hockey leaves plenty of time for workouts and strength training. With a little work on his acceleration and more heft on his already sizeable frame, McDonough could have an NHL future.