There has been plenty of impressive play from Vancouver Canucks prospects down on the farm with the Utica Comets this season.
Kole Lind, Jack Rathbone and Jonah Gadjovich have each been called up from Utica this season and with Gadjovich’s NHL debut looming around the corner, the Canucks have given another young player the tap on the shoulder.
Let’s get to the first notable topic about this recall. With a seven-day quarantine needed, Lockwood will report straight to Vancouver and will be eligible to play in each of the Canucks’ final two games of the season against the Calgary Flames. He won’t get a long look but this call-up signifies that the Canucks are aware of how impressive he has looked at the AHL level this season and want to reward him with a taste of NHL life.
There’s a lot to like about Lockwood. He’s a winger who glides around the ice and is aggressive with his physicality and is a truculent forechecker. He uses those assets to be a key penalty killer for this year’s rendition of the Comets and after a slower start to the season, he has been on a tear since April 16th.
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One of the worries about Lockwood was that he was too aggressive and has no regard for his own body when he throws his weight around on the ice. He was reckless on the ice at times in his NCAA career and we can look back to his World Junior experience as another indication of his game being so aggressive that it was to a fault as he struggled to stay healthy through his freshman and sophomore seasons at Michigan.
Lockwood was able to stay very healthy through his final two seasons at Michigan and has been able to stickhandle through some COVID outbreaks around him in Utica to stay on the ice for the Comets.
After just three assists in his first 13 AHL games, Lockwood has four goals and four assists over his past 11 games and is averaging 2.1 shots a game over that 11-game stretch. Earlier in the season, he had seven shots in one game and that felt like the turning point for Lockwood where he knew that open ice was going to be available for him at the AHL level and he has seized the scoring opportunities with his elite speed.
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Comets Head Coach Trent Cull has been impressed with Lockwood’s rookie season. The speed is the most notable thing about his game that will get him a shot at the NHL level, but the awareness in the defensive zone is what will keep him there.
“Will’s a tough guy to play against,” said Cull. “He’s physical. He plays the game fearlessly. When he’s providing that little extra control with the puck in the (offensive) zone, he becomes dangerous. He’s got great speed. He’s another one of those guys that’s on our PK and he’s getting time on it and learning about the reads and is becoming more consistent.”
There is mutual respect between Cull and Lockwood. Transitioning to professional hockey is no easy task but the coaching staff has done all they can to help Lockwood succeed.
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“The coaches here shortened the learning curve for me,” said Lockwood. “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.”
The coaching staff has worked on more than just penalty killing with Lockwood. Trent Cull noticed how Lockwood’s speed was creating so many clear-cut breakaway scoring chances Lockwood. Cull sought out the services of Comets goalie coach Curtis Sanford to help Lockwood with some new moves to beat goaltenders in a one-on-one situation.
There’s a real bite to his game. He’s going to run around the ice and as Cull said earlier, be tough to play against. Lockwood dropped the gloves with a much bigger opponent earlier in the year after throwing a high hit in the neutral zone.
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The 2016 third-round pick has shown well throughout the season and has a bevy of interesting skills that could help the Canucks’ bottom-six with their changeover as the next couple of years come and go.
Lockwood has the potential to play alongside some energy players on a fourth line and help transform the Canucks’ fourth line into one that not only brings energy on every shift but can also chip in with some much-needed depth offence.
He will turn 23 next month and a couple of games at the NHL level will definitely help him in his offseason training. With wins being less important than having a snow shovel in Vancouver, Lockwood should get a taste in each of the final two games of the season after he finishes his quarantine.
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He will finish his rookie AHL season with four goals and seven assists over 24 games and earned the coach’s trust and respect from how hard he competes on every shift.
If the Canucks can find the right fourth-line centre to balance the energy, a winger set of Tyler Motte and Will Lockwood would make opponents pull out the bug repellent as the two players would be buzzing around like a fly in a stuffy office.
He received the call to the Taxi Squad now and will be out of quarantine in time to get two games in for the Canucks.
It makes sense to see if his energy level can be better than the middling AHL-NHL tweeners that the Canucks are currently throwing out in their bottom-six.