His skating impressed everyone in the building, and now, he is set to take what he learned from his first NHL training camp and go back to the OHL as a man on a mission.
Connor Lockhart was drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft after not playing a single game in his draft year. He had to rely upon his tape as a 16-year-old as the main source of information NHL teams had on him. The Canucks took a risk in drafting him and are now hoping that the missed season helps Lockhart become a true diamond in the rough pick.
The 2020-21 OHL season was cancelled after multiple start-up dates and shutdowns kept Lockhart questioning if he should head to Europe to play out his draft season or not.
“I was going to go overseas to Europe, but then the OHL kept saying, ‘we’re going to start, we’re going to start,’ so it kept me in Ontario the whole time,” said Lockhart. “During that time I was just focused on myself, my game and what I could control. I was fortunate to be drafted and I think that’s a great start. I’m certain that if there was an OHL season I would have been drafted a lot higher, but a draft number is just a number. Now I’m going to a great Canucks system and it’s just up to me to work my way up.”
It was clear that Lockhart still has a long road to get to pro hockey but he did impress throughout the three-day training camp. His skating is definitely the strongest point of his game but he also shows good hands. His shot has some real pop on it and he can hit his desired target with consistency. He can give and receive passes while keeping his feet moving to create scoring chances and it will be fun to follow his 2021-22 OHL season with the Erie Otters.
Even with the OHL screwing him over with constant shines of light of a potential season, Lockhart’s 18-month offseason saw him get much stronger in the gym while continuing to grow his skills on the ice.
He was fortunate to work with a great trainer who found ice all year long, even through the shutdowns in Ontario. Through the 18 month offseason, Lockhart told me that the longest he went without ice was two weeks. He even spent time on the ice with a former fan favourite of Canucks fans and an NHL all-star.
“It was pretty much a normal offseason for me but it was just five times longer,” said Lockhart. “I was able to skate and train on a regular basis. The workouts were great. I was training with some really high-level pros like former Canuck Benny Hutton and also Claude Giroux. I definitely learned a lot in the last 18 months. I definitely had it easier than a lot of guys who were struggling to find resources in a lockdown.”
Lockhart said that his workouts and training were great but not playing games was a grind on the teenager.
“It was pretty tough for me, just exhausting. Not only physically with the workouts, but mentally, it was a really long offseason. I really wanted to play in my draft year but I wasn’t able to play any games, which was very frustrating. Then, at the draft, to be drafted by a Canadian team like Vancouver. It’s pretty exciting. This camp was definitely a great experience. I used it to learn and just to soak it all in and now I’ll go back to Erie and spread the love towards the younger guys on my team.”
Lockhart had 27 points in 57 games during his rookie OHL season back in 2019-20. He is expected to be a leader offensively for the Otters this season but doesn’t think that his success is entirely measured by goals and assists.
Following a full year of missed game action, I cannot wait to see what Connor Lockhart does in his D+1 season.
— Dave Hall (@hall1289) September 21, 2021
“Points are obviously great but one thing that’s been stressed about at training camp is that numbers are just numbers,” said Lockhart when asked if he has expectations for his scoring numbers this coming season.
”If you do what you’re told and you can execute, that’s something they care more about. The coaches, scouts and other management people have stressed that. So, I’m not going to put any numbers in my head. My one goal this season is to play well enough to earn a pro contract this year. That’s something that every drafted player wants to earn and I think this camp was a great stepping stone as I hopefully impressed and left a good mark here and now I’ll go back to the OHL and do some really good stuff and have a great season. That’s kind of the only goal I have set for myself and I think my on-ice play will speak for itself when it comes to scoring points and leadership.”
As for his experience at Canucks’ training camp, Lockhart really enjoyed his time with the team. He spent a lot of time talking with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and enjoyed picking the brain of NHL scorers like Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat.
“The whole camp was pretty exciting,” said Lockhart. “I was fortunate to get my OHL camp in Erie before Abbotsford, so, it was nice to have a warmup, but as for my first NHL camp, it sure is pretty cool. To be out there with some of our returning guys and just soak it all in and use it to help me learn before I head back to the OHL is massive.”
It’s expected to be a big year for Lockhart in the OHL. He told me that he expects to play the wing this season but can also play some centre if the Otters want to use him there.
Though he hopes the best for all his Otter teammates, there were a couple names that he mentioned who were partaking in other NHL training camps that he hopes to play with this season. If a couple of those names return from their camps, Lockhart expects to be a part of one of the best lines in the OHL and is ready to push for the playoffs with the Otters.
Connor Lockhart scores the winner for team white. pic.twitter.com/RTuge4SbdA
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) September 17, 2021
His best memory from the time spent in BC over the past couple of weeks came from rookie camp as he got to spend a lot of time talking hockey with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
“At rookie camp, the Sedins were walking around and those guys are hall of famers,” said Lockhart. “It’s pretty cool to be in their presence and just chat hockey with them, especially knowing what they have done for the city of Vancouver.”
As he heads back to Erie, he has learned from some of the best and impressed enough in camp that made us want to follow his OHL season much closer.
There’s a lot of potential in his game as he skates well and has plenty of weapons offensively.
It’s sure to be a big year for Connor Lockhart in the OHL and we will definitely be following along to see what he can do.
For now, we will see if the loss of his draft season hid a special talent and helped the Canucks find a late-round gem.