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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

In one year, Will Lockwood has gone from also-ran to opening night dark horse: CanucksArmy prospect rankings #5

Welcome back to the annual CanucksArmy Prospect Rankings. We’re deep into it now, and we’ve got a bit of a strange one for you today.

Normally, when a player suddenly appears in the top five of a Prospect Ranking after not appearing at all the previous year, it’s a safe bet that they’re new to the organization.

But that’s not the case for Will Lockwood, who didn’t crack our top-15 for last year, his fifth with the franchise, but now slots in at #5.

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It’s even stranger when you realize that Lockwood has made that climb while playing just 141 games across the FIVE SEASONS since his draft date.

It is, of course, what Lockwood has done with that limited opportunity that really stands out.

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 172 lbs

Age: 23

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Position: RW
Handedness:
Right

2021/22 Team: Abbotsford/Vancouver Canucks

When the Canucks selected Lockwood at 64th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, he looked like a bit of a reach to some, even in the third round. Lockwood had managed just six points in 20 games playing for the US National Team Development in the USHL, a noticeable drop from the 13 points in 35 games he’d had the year before.

Lockwood managed a more impressive 33 points in 59 games playing for the US Under-18 team in the Development Program itself, but he really earned his draft position with a point-per-game showing at the 2016 Under-18 Championships.

Lockwood’s upper trajectory continued into the NCAA, where he finished second in scoring for the University of Michigan Wolverines with 20 points in 30 games. Their leading scorer, Jake Slaker, had one more point in five more games, and it was clear that Lockwood was the primary drink-stirrer on their line. From the beginning, Lockwood’s skating ability was apparent, but so was his willingness to always employ that skating ability at top speed, and usually in the direction of an opponent.

For 2017/18, Lockwood was joined by some additional talent in Michigan, including Josh Norris and a smooth-skating little defender named Quinn Hughes. Unfortunately, it was not a terrific year for him as an individual. He’d suffered an injury to his left shoulder as a freshman that required summer surgery but rebounded to post 11 points in his first 16 NCAA.

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That was enough to earn him a spot on the USA roster for the 2018 World Junior Championships, where Lockwood went pointless in three games…and then injured that same exact shoulder. The resulting surgery would keep him out for the remainder of the season, and he’d have to watch the Wolverines play in the Frozen Four without him.

Lockwood returned for 2018/19 to post the best season of his college career, racking up 16 goals and 31 points in 33 games and earning accolades for his developing hands, which seemed to be catching up to his feet. At the end of the year, Hughes signed a professional contract and joined the Canucks, and for a while, it looked like Lockwood would follow, but he ultimately decided to return to Michigan for his senior season.

And it was at this point that many in the Vancouver fanbase wrote Lockwood off. In part, this was due to fear of him playing out his eligibility and then signing elsewhere as a free agent, and in part, it was due to the usually questionable developmental decision of staying at the same level for four seasons.

But Lockwood stayed determined. Named captain of the Wolverines, Lockwood’s stat line took a bit of a dip — down to 23 points in 33 games — but that was primarily due to the departures of Hughes, Norris, and others, and Lockwood used the opportunity to shore up his two-way game.

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Then, as soon as the season was over, he assuaged all fears by promptly signing an ELC with the Canucks, though by that point the COVID-19 pandemic had already ensured he wouldn’t be making a professional cameo quite yet.

All of which sounds like fine development, and certainly enough to keep Lockwood on track for a post-NCAA hockey career, but clearly wasn’t enough to prevent him from continually sliding down the organizational prospect rankings.

His latest skyrocketing is absolutely a result of what came next.

Lockwood joined the Utica Comets, and very quickly adjusted to the speed of the pro ranks. He earned a reputation for hits that were as impactful as they were frequent, and made it obvious that those shoulder injuries of the past weren’t going to stop him from playing his game.

Through February and March, Lockwood showed off that practiced defensive soundness, avoiding being victimized by any of the excess talent present in the 2021 AHL. It wasn’t long before he was a trusted penalty killer, and his forechecking came to be counted on in tight games.

But his offence lagged behind. Through April 19 and his first 15 professional games, Lockwood had yet to score a goal, and had only managed four assists.

Then, something clicked.

His first pro goal came on April 21, 2021 against Binghamton, shorthanded, and he followed it up with two more in Rochester a couple of nights later.

That preceded a bit of a tear that saw Lockwood post four goals and eight points through his final 11 games.

That stint led to Lockwood’s first NHL call-up. In two games with the Canucks, he scored no points, took two minutes in penalties, and went -2. More importantly, however, Lockwood showed that he could keep up with the increased big-league pace. He didn’t look out of place in the slightest. In fact, he looks to already be one of the Canucks’ swiftest and most tenacious options in the bottom-six.

In one year, Lockwood has gone from a prospect C-lister to the fifth-ranked prospect in the system. In one year, he’s gone from a near-write-off to a potential dark horse to crack the 2021/22 opening night roster.

That’s a lot of progress, and really that’s what it’s all about.

More than anything, an upward trajectory is the best predictor of future success for a young hockey player. The ability to consistently take your game to a new level — or to maintain your level of play when jumping up a level — naturally suggests that said player stands a better chance of sticking once they make that ultimate jump to the NHL. Lockwood has shown himself to be adaptable, quick-to-adjust, and constantly moving in the right direction — whether that be on his developmental curve or on the ice.

Will Lockwood ever be a top-six player in the NHL? Probably not. Though he’s already busted through some previous ceilings placed over his head by prognosticators, there is a limit to his talent, and he’s very likely destined for bottom-six duty from here on out.

But teams need bottom-sixers, and Lockwood is a talented bottom-sixer. In many ways, he’s a coach’s dream in that role. He brings energy through his ever-running motor, he makes opponents keep their heads up at all times, he’s smart enough to kill penalties, he buries the puck in the offensive zone with his forechecking, and he’s speedy and opportunistic enough to capitalize on mistakes and turn the puck back in the other direction. His offensive skills may not be anything to write home about, but his goal-scoring at lower levels suggests he’ll still pick up his fair share of points.

The name that keeps popping up when it comes to Canuck comparables is Jannik Hansen, and it’s hard not to see it. Like Hansen, Lockwood could wind up being one of those players that is infinitely more useful than his stat line might suggest. The kind of player who might not be a household name, but who every opponent knows and dreads playing against.

And he could wind up being that as early as this upcoming season.

Wood you believe it?

Previous Rankings Articles:

15. Lucas Forsell, W
14. Arturs Silovs, G
13. Viktor Persson, RD
12. Arvid Costmar, C/RW
11. Hugo Gabrielson, LD/RD
10. Dmitri Zlodeyev, C
9. Joni Jurmo, LD
8. Jonah Gadjovich, LW
7. Jett Woo, RD
6. Aidan McDonough, LW