We at Canucks Army take a whole lot of pride in being right about things, but it’s also extremely important to acknowledge when you are wrong – otherwise, you’ll be doomed to make the same mistakes in the future.
We are certainly learning, and it narrowly stopped us from making the same mistake twice. We panned the Gaudette pick in 2015, and after a great freshman year at Northeastern, we had to admit we were wrong. That’s why even though we were plenty skeptical about the selection of Will Lockwood in 2016, we figured we’d better give the Canucks’ USHL scouting staff the benefit of the doubt.
And as it turns out, that was the right choice to make, because just seven months after being drafted, Lockwood is looking like a pretty great pickup. He checks in at #8 on our Midterm Prospect Rankings.
A quick review the criteria for consideration for the rankings:
- The player must be 25 years or younger, and
- The player must be eligible for the Calder Trophy next season.
As a result, players that are considered to be “graduated” to the NHL (Brendan Gaunce, Nikita Tryamkin, Jake Virtanen, Anton Rodin) are not eligible.
Origins and Projections
Will “don’t call me William” Lockwood was picked 64th overall by the Canucks last June, one spot before Canucks Army favourite Vitali Abramov, before other approved options like Adam Fox and Cam Dineen, and about a full round before he was expected to go based on various scouting services.
The proposed explanation for this is that the Canucks didn’t think that Lockwood would be available by the time their next pick rolled around (#140), and they reeeally wanted Lockwood, so they grabbed him. That’s a fair enough explanation if you feel very comfortable with that player.
The skepticism put forth by fans and bloggers was largely due to his poor numbers in his draft season, particularly against USHL competition. Now, we all know that numbers don’t tell the whole story, but three goals in 20 games against your peers is a pretty big red flag.
Lockwood spent that season with the Under-18 team of the U.S. National Team Development Program, a sort-of all-star squad of American born players that play exhibition matches against NCAA teams, international squads, as well as a circuit schedule through the USHL. Lockwood’s numbers against both USHL competition, and through his season with the NTDP as a whole produced zero successful matches within the pGPS model.
Halfway through his freshman year at college however, pGPS shines a more optimistic light on the Bloomfield Hills native.
Through 18 games with the University of Michigan, Lockwood has tallied seven goals and 13 points, and has shown an awful lot more offensive talent than pretty much anyone expected out of him following his 2015-16 season.
There are no shortage of players that have performed similarly at the same age and falling within a similar stature, as Lockwood garnered 81 matches for his current season. Just under 20 percent of those matches went on to play 200 NHL games, including a couple former Canucks in Brendan Morrison and Jeff Tambellini as well as the NHL’s active Iron Man streak holder, Andrew Cogliano.
What is particularly interesting about Lockwood’s cohort is how varied their individual performances were at the NHL level:
This is a pretty unusual variance in deployment – usually you see more matches concentrated around a specific line, collapsing out from there.
Several different people, including the Canucks, compared Lockwood to Jannik Hansen in terms of playing style. His scouting report from Elite Prospects paints a similar picture:
A hard-nosed two-way winger that thinks ahead of the play and seeks to be proactive whenever he is on the ice. In every situation, he exhibits haste, quickness, and urgency. He utilizes his high end footspeed to gain position on the opposition, and inherently knows how to create time and space for himself and teammates. Adheres to the physical side of the game and will initiate contact instinctively.
Likewise, the report that HockeyProspect.com gave on him prior to the draft highlights many of the same attributes:
While his production isn’t eye-popping, Lockwood has emerged as quite an interesting offensive player. He has very good skating ability, quick and light first few steps that generate good top-speed and has the ability to change angles on defencemen. Lockwood has a soft touch with the puck and can handle it at his top speed. He is especially dangerous when he has a step or two of advantage on defencemen. Lockwood plays an up-tempo offensive game and has also shown some physicality as we have seen him finish checks on the forecheck. [He] has good offensive zone instincts and can finish plays. He shows the ability to buy himself time with the puck through his skating but is still learning how to utilize his tools to generate extended offensive zone time.
Lockwood was one of those players where the eye test and that stats seemed to be at odds with one another (although keep in mind, even with this generally positive review, Hockey Prospect had him ranked 151st). There seemed to be some expectancy that he should be producing more than he was based on his abilities, and it seems that that may be coming to fruition in Michigan under the watchful eye of legendary college bench boss Red Berenson.
Even those who may have opposed the selection at the time can’t help but be impressed by the way Lockwood looks when he’s playing. He’s fast, he’s physical, and he consistently looks dangerous offensively.
— WTG (@WinThaGame) November 27, 2016
It wouldn’t be wrong to wonder just how much of an effect playing in the Wolverines program has helped him in that regard, given their recent track record (as noted by SN Nation’s College Hockey site):
While the last few seasons, and likely this current one as well, have been disappointments for the University of Michigan, largely stemming from their inability to develop defensemen and goalies, one area where the Wolverines have unquestionably excelled is their development of elite offensive producers.
Dylan Larkin, Tyler Motte, JT Compher and even Zach Werenski all came to Michigan with impressive pedigrees out of the US National Team Development Program. All four were considered very talented all-around players, but the biggest knock on all four in the year prior to enrolling at Michigan was that they lacked true elite scoring ability. But all four developed into elite scorers during their time at Michigan, and have continued that success at the NHL level, minus Compher, who appears on the cusp of the NHL after some early success in the AHL.
While it’s highly unlikely that Lockwood becomes an “elite scorer” at the NHL level, the program does seem to be working wonders for a player who seemed to be brimming with commendable attributes while still disappointing on the scoresheet last season.
This year, the Michigan offence is relying on him to produce – or at least it was until he succumbed to a shoulder injury that has caused him to miss several weeks. Prior to that, Lockwood was seeing time on Michigan’s top line, he was a catalyst on their power play, and he was given penalty killing time as well – which he has used to score a pair of shorthanded goals already this season.
Lockwood’s breakaway snipe vs USNDT
You know that one prospect that Leafs blogger doesnt think is any good pic.twitter.com/m5gngUG0QH
— WTG (@WinThaGame) November 19, 2016
Chris Dilks of SB Nation noted that “He’s got the agility to side-step checks to get through the neutral zone, and his speed keeps opposing defensemen off-balance and forces them to be conservative with their gaps, allowing him to gain easy zone entry.” This ability is reflected in his underlying numbers, and although we have just a tiny sample of them, we like what we see.
Cory Sznajder, tracker extraordinaire, tracked a pair of Michigan Wolverines games prior to the start of the NHL season, to get himself in the tracking mood I suppose. During those two games (a 4-3 Michigan loss, and a 4-0 Michigan win), Lockwood impressed in a number of statistical categories: he led all Michigan forwards in shot assists (passes prior to a shot) and 5-on-5 carry-type zone entries, and carry-in percentage, while also leading all forwards on either team in zone exits with possession.
Lockwood didn’t get the opportunity to play for his country at the World Junior Championships earlier this month, although TSN’s Craig Button thought that his play warranted him at least an invite to selection camp. That said, he’s still got next year. If he were to stick with the path he’s currently on now, he should have a very good chance of making the 2018 USA squad.
If there is an agreeable consensus to be found between the scouting reports and statistical models like pGPS, it might be this: we don’t exactly know what Lockwood is projecting to be at this point – but we certainly like where he’s headed.