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Photo Credit: Sam Mousigian

Will Lockwood impressed in his Canucks debut and could challenge for an NHL job out of camp next season

Will Lockwood made his NHL debut on Tuesday afternoon and instantly fit in with the speed of the NHL game.

Speed is never going to be a problem for Lockwood. He’s been a burner all through his career and he showcased that speed this season in the AHL. Tuesday’s debut was a big step in the right direction for Lockwood as he fit right into the Canucks’ lineup and was able to help drive play out of his own zone and extend time in the offensive zone with the puck.

After a slow start to his AHL season, something changed in his game and Lockwood praised his coach Trent Cull for the boost in confidence.

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“The coaches (in Utica) shortened that learning curve for me,” said Lockwood when asked about his transition into pro hockey. “They are always finding bits and pieces of my game to improve. I was worried about being defensively sound and working on the PK but they have really helped me.”

Cull watched as the 22-year-old grew his game and was an impact player almost immediately on a young Utica Comets team.

“He’s got such explosive speed,” Cull chuckled as he smiled at the camera. “Obviously, he’s fast, but he’s playing with confidence. I’m happy that he’s feeling comfortable. I like how Will is playing.”

That confidence really showed in the second half of the AHL season.

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He had eight points in his final 11 games after only putting up three assists in his first 13 games.

“I cherish that time in Utica,” said Lockwood with a grin. “I think I developed really well, especially the second half. I really started finding my game and the coaches down there were great and helped me through that. I think in the second half, I found a little bit of confidence and just tried to ride that momentum.”

The points were fine but the part of Lockwood’s game that is going to keep him in the NHL is his ability to drive the puck up ice and do that from gaining possession of the puck in his own end.

As for shot share, he had the best on the Comets this past season as indicated from this graph provided by Cody Severtson of CometsHarvest. He also has a +3 goal share to go along with his +33 shot share through 24 AHL games.

Now Lockwood will look towards training camp for the 2021-22 season. He definitely isn’t a lock to make the team out of camp but he shows some skills that will translate nicely into a bottom-six energy line. The Canucks haven’t had a lot of speed in their bottom-six aside from players like Tyler Motte and Jake Virtanen over the past few years.

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Motte has found success because he gives 100% effort on every shift, is rarely out of position and does a great job of blocking shots. Lockwood’s game shares many parallels to Motte’s game as both players were good scorers in college while also having above-average NHL speed to go with their non-stop energy that they exert on every shift.

Both Motte and Lockwood both attended the University of Michigan and though Lockwood didn’t score at the level that Motte did during Motte’s senior year, both players played a similar role getting time on both the power play and penalty kill units. The idea of a Motte and Lockwood winger combination being assembled on a Canucks fourth line is exciting. It’s two players with a lot of speed and a touch of scoring to boot.

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Gone are the days of fourth line players who can’t skate. It’s 2021 and every player needs to gain an advantage on the ice somehow. Lockwood’s advantage is his speed and effort to go with his quick hands that can score goals when the opportunities present themselves.

Heck, he’s already got chemistry with Jay Beagle…

Just getting into NHL action is a big step for Lockwood, who will turn 23 in June. He may not make the team out of camp but being a quick drive down the road in Abbotsford does give the Canucks more flexibility to bring him into the lineup if they are to lose some bottom-six players to injury next season.

Tuesday was a big day for Lockwood and he was happy with his debut in the NHL.

“I thought I did everything that I wanted to do in the game,” said Lockwood. “I kept it simple, got physical and used my speed. I’m really happy with the way I played tonight.”

I’ve always thought that just a taste of the NHL can give a player in Lockwood’s position a huge boost as he heads into the offseason. He talked about what this experience can do for him as he prepares to work his way into the NHL this offseason.

“It’s huge going into the offseason,” said Lockwood. “It’ll bring a lot of confidence into what I’m doing and to get that one under my belt is awesome. I’ll look back on it and smile and right now I’m just kind of soaking it all in and enjoying it.”

There is still a lot of work to do before he is an NHL player but his showing in the AHL this season and debut as an NHLer indicates that there is something there for the third-round pick of the Canucks at the 2016 draft. He already has NHL-level speed and if he can keep his energy up on every shift, there will be a spot for him to play on this team in the future.

The question is, will it be as soon as next year?