Jett Woo of Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League could become the second player of Chinese descent to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.
Woo, 17, is a right-shot defenseman listed at No. 28 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft. He was born and trained in Winnipeg; his father, Larry, is of Chinese descent and his mother, Dolly, is of German ancestry.
Jett has spent a lot of time learning about his Chinese grandparents and said he hopes to have an opportunity someday to play an NHL game in China. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames will play in the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games Sept. 15-19 in Shenzen and Beijing.
“The way that hockey is shaping up, really anyone, anywhere, can play right now if you stick with it and work hard enough,” said Woo, who said he’s never been to China. “It’s something that’s really cool and I’m really proud to be playing hockey, proud to be of Chinese descent. Having those two things so close to me is something I really cherish and am thankful for.”
Woo would be the second player of Chinese descent selected in the NHL Draft; the New York Islanders picked Lawrenceville School defenseman Andong Song in the sixth round (No. 172) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Woo said he recalls spending time with his grandparents at their house in Winnipeg, learning about their culture and their cuisine. Woo’s grandparents were born in Canton, China and owned a small restaurant chain in Winnipeg called Marigold. His grandfather has since passed away.
“My dad’s whole side is Chinese so growing up we’d spend days at my grandparents’ house eating Chinese food,” Woo said. “We actually owned a chain of restaurants and were either eating there or getting takeout.”
Even though Woo is looking to break new ground in the NHL, he is considered a throwback-type hockey player.
“If you don’t have your head up, look out,” John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. “He reminds me of former St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. He usually gets one or two big hits every night, but his skill level has improved this season. He has a good shot, makes plays, and his skating has gotten considerably better.”
Woo (6-foot, 205 pounds) had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 44 games, and had three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 WHL playoff games.
He’s become a fan favorite in his three seasons with Moose Jaw, and fans at Mosaic Place, Moose Jaw’s arena, serenade him with a loud “Woo,” reminiscent of professional wrestler Ric Flair, after big hits.
“It’s neat to hear those chants,” he said. “I have to give credit to my parents for having the name. It’s cool to have the attention around that and to see different reactions when you go to different places. But to have people chanting your name … it’s a lot of fun.”
Larry Woo played forward for Victoria and Swift Current in the WHL and then for four seasons for the University of Manitoba. Larry and Dolly named Jett, the oldest of their three children, after Chinese film star Jet Li.
“I’m not exactly sure if my dad is a big fan of Jet Li … he might be,” Woo said. “I know that’s where my name came from. I know my grandparents liked the name. With dad having the opportunity to come to Winnipeg and then ending up going to Hollywood, it all ended up working well for him.”
Larry Woo played Park Kim in the movie “Goon” in 2011, and its sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” in 2017.
“Dad was probably one of the biggest influences I had in hockey,” Jett said. “He was the one driving me to the rink and was my coach growing up, so he had a lot of say on the bench or on the long rides home. He and my mom were there for me. I’m always looking for them for advice and having that extra person to lean on.”
Woo wears No. 4 to honor Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and said he’s also a big fan of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber because of his intimidating presence.
“I feel having that extra grit kind of helps me in the game,” he said. “I always bring it back to Shea Weber. One time I watched a game of his and a player was coming down on his side but cut across to the other defenseman and I think it was because he didn’t want to take Shea Weber 1-on-1. That’s something I want to bring to the game; be that guy that opponents are scared to play against.
“I take pride in making defense a priority whether that be competing for every puck or being the first guy at the net boxing out, or making a good first-pass up ice. That, along with playing physical, smart and deciding whether to have stick on puck or to go right at the guy and have body-on-body contact, are the things I feel I do well.”