The Canucks are overloaded with oodles of legitimate NHL prospects dispersed throughout Planet Earth. It is easy to lose track of some of them since there are only 24 hours in a day and even insomniacs need to sleep a little bit. One of those overlooked potential gems is coming up to crunch-decision time.
Will Lockwood is in his fourth and final season of suiting up in the NCAA for his University of Michigan Wolverines. He was nabbed by Canucks’ General Manager Jim Benning 64th overall in the third round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Following the Draft, Lockwood entered his freshman season at Michigan.
He took off in his first NCAA season notching 12 points in 16 games leading his club in scoring. Then this dirty unpenalized cross-check happened.
He raised his left shoulder to protect his head and neck after being pushed face first into the boards. But his left shoulder was separated by the impact with the hardwood.
The injury happened just prior to a long break in the Wolverines’ game schedule. He returned for his team’s next game. He did miss five games during the remainder of the season when his left shoulder problem became aggravated during gameplay. Despite playing with the injury, he still managed to net eight goals and twenty points in his freshman season. Once his season ended, he opted for shoulder surgery and a long summer rehabilitation.
In his sophomore season at Michigan he was picked to be on the USA’s U20 World Juniors’ hockey squad. He put up eleven points in sixteen games for Michigan before joining his American teammates. Then in his third game of the WJC tournament, playing in the preliminary round against Canada in an outdoor rink on New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, this happened.
Final: U.S. 4, Canada 3 in a shootout at the world junior hockey outdoor game in Buffalo. UM's Will Lockwood carted off with injury. pic.twitter.com/xPx7PB9rQe— Mark Falkner (@Falkner) December 29, 2017
It was his left shoulder again. But this time it ended his hockey season immediately. Was he done as a legitimate NHL prospect? Was he ever going to be able to recover well enough to be a major factor on an ice sheet again?
Johnson on Will Lockwood, "Looks like surgery on his shoulder in 2 weeks, most likely 6 months out." #Canucks— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) January 12, 2018
After another long off-season of rehabilitation, he was ready to start his third NCAA season on time. He excelled and didn’t miss even one game. He put up an impressive 16 goals and 31 points in 36 games. He finished second on his team in scoring. You may be acquainted with his then top scoring teammate. The one and only Huggy Bear.
After his third college hockey season ended, he thought long and hard about turning pro with the Canucks’ organization. But at the end of the day, he decided he wanted to take one final crack at trying to win a National Championship.
Will Lockwood on @Sportsnet650 on returning to Michigan : "I talked with Mr Benning and Mr Johnson, things don't change for me, the goal is to still play in Vancouver at the end of next year. I also want to leave a little bit of a legacy in Michigan"— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) April 5, 2019
He was selected as the Captain of his team for his fourth and final college season. His dream of leading his Wolverines to a National Championship is now very unlikely to happen. They are a mediocre 11-12-3 on the season and his NCAA career will likely conclude some time next month. He has had an average year scoring only six goals and nine assists in 23 games. Both the Wolverines and him missed the dynamic presence of Quinn Hughes on their roster.
He remains publicly loyal to the Vancouver Canucks organization. He probably would like nothing better then to suit up with his former college teammate in the blue-and-green come March.
Lockwood on signing with #Canucks, “that is the plan every since I got drafted by Vancouver, hopefully it works out for both sides. My dream was to play 4 years at Michigan, just like the dream to play in Vancouver, being apart of the Canucks organization. ” #TSN1040— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) January 15, 2020
But times have changed in Vancouver since he was drafted. The Canucks for the first time in five years are fighting for a playoff spot and even a division crown. There are no garbage-time games likely available to hand out to NCAA graduates seeking to burn a year of their Entry Level Contracts (ELC).
The roster is no longer filled with the likes of Jayson Megna, Jack Skille, and Anton Rodin for him to easily push aside. Now he will have to outplay Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen and Brandon Sutter to gain a place on the NHL roster.
His young prospect competition for the few valuable veteran roster spots that may become available are now replete with talented and intriguing competitors such as Zack MacEwen, Justin Bailey, Kole Lind and Lukas Jasek. Others like Nils Hoglander, Tyler Madden and Vasily Podkolzin will soon be on the way to make his future path to the Canucks’ NHL roster even more difficult.
So when he sits down with his advisor in the next few weeks, he may decide that the bevy of talent that will stand in his way in Vancouver is too daunting to overcome. He may determine that his path will be made easier if he instead signs with a bottom feeder NHL team like the Detroit Red Wings or Los Angeles Kings for example.
Or he could decide that he will repay Vancouver’s loyalty to him over the past four years and bet on himself. He is a character player who skates like the wind, loves to hit and play physical and he gets timely goals.
Jim Benning likened him to a young Jannik Hansen when he drafted him. He called him a bundle of energy and an excellent skater with a high compete level. He projected him to be a winger who could move up and down an NHL forward line-up. From watching him in college you can see those attributes. He plays hard, moves quickly and can be an explosive skater.
Canucks’ fans should find out next month whether or not Will Lockwood will choose the Vancouver Canucks to continue to chase his NHL dream. If he chooses Vancouver we may get to see some of that old college magic take place on Rogers’ Arena’s ice before too long.