The latest series of must-win games are also look-at-me opportunities.
For rookie Will Lockwood, who hustled, hit and even fought in his first seven pointless games after being recalled by the Vancouver Canucks, making an impact now as a feisty bottom-six fit will help cement his National Hockey League future.
Perhaps as a speedy and edgy Tyler Motte 2.0 clone, who packs a punch and can find the net.
When coach Bruce Boudreau has the confidence to play you in the third period to help protect a lead, it says something about a level of responsible two-way play. So does dropping the mitts in that rite of passage to see if you’re as tough as advertised and not just an irritant.
That was answered Saturday when the 23-year-old Lockwood made an early statement at Rogers Arena. After throwing a big hit on big San Jose Sharks leading scorer Timo Meir, who had a 35-pound advantage, Lockwood was challenged to scrap by Noah Gregor. Lockwood was awarded the decision on the hockeyfights.com scorecard.
Lockwood got sideboards stick-taps from the Canucks bench and post-game bouquets for his bravado. After all, with NCAA fighting resulting in a game disqualification, he didn’t have much to draw upon for his three American Hockey League bouts and one in the NHL the last two seasons.
He did prove that Saturday night was alright for fighting.
“We actually fought earlier in the year in the AHL (a Nov. 14 bout in Abbotsford, when the ‘baby Canucks’ hosted the San Jose Barracuda) and I think he actually said something in the box about every time we’re on the ice together, I blow up one of his linemates,” Lockwood recalled Tuesday morning following the game-day skate.
“The way I like to play, sometimes you’re going to have to answer the bell and especially when you hit one of their top players. It gave my game a little bit more confidence to know I have that if I need it and I can go out there and play freely.
“It (fighting) is not something I’m going to look for night in and night out, but there are certain situations where it will help the team. I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to that, and it might be a little bit of trial and error, but I’ve picked up some tips.”
Lockwood played two late-season NHL games last season, but growing his game with the AHL affiliate in Utica, NY, in 2020-21 and Abbotsford this season warranted the recall. Especially after Motte was dealt to the New York Rangers at the March 21 deadline and with wingers Mathew Highmore and Nils Höglander sidelined at that time.
Lockwood, who missed six games in November to injury, added a key penalty-killing role and prime matchup challenges to his AHL resume. His 25 points (9-16) in 46 games with Abbotsford speak to an evolution as a complete player.
That’s vital at the NHL level if the third-round selection (64th overall) in the 2016 draft expects to become a mainstay roster.
Lockwood has picked up bits and pieces of watching guys in The Show and cited fellow University of Michigan alum Luke Glendening (Dallas Stars) as someone he has always looked up to, especially to tap into this league.
Glendening, 32, has played nine seasons, including eight with the Detroit Red Wings, by being a regular roster capable of hitting double figures in goals. That’s what Lockwood needs to aspire to.
“These are the games as a kid that you always imagined yourself playing in — especially this late in the season,” Lockwood said of aligning with Juho Lammikko and Jason Dickinson. “We had some big games and memorable games at Michigan, but here it’s at a completely different level.
“Each game, I’m gaining a little more confidence and getting used to the systems by thinking less and playing more. The coaches have been great and it has been a smoother transition that I thought it would be.”
Still, the road from college standout to the NHL has been rocky. Lockwood endured shoulder separations at Michigan and surgery slowed his progress, but only briefly in 2017-18. The following season he hit a career high of 31 points (16-15) in 36 games with the Wolverines.
“It has shaped who I have become today,” Lockwood said of exceeding adversity. “Guys are going to get hurt and there are things you can’t control, like injury prevention. Some situations are just going to happen — it’s how you react. I won’t take being healthy for granted.”
Canucks senior director of player development Ryan Johnson, who doubles as general manager of the Abbotsford affiliate, has been almost giddy about the potential of Lockwood to take his game to another level because of the work the winger has done and how he applies himself.
“He’s imposing with explosiveness and has an ability to catch people who take him lightly,” said Johnson. “He can put you on your butt pretty quickly. A fantastic human being. He’s got a bright future and has worked so hard on the PK part because a player like him has to be able to do it.”
OVERTIME— Boudreau said injured winger Brock Boeser was seeing a specialist Tuesday to assess his arm injury that could also be a wrist concern. Tanner Pearson may also have an arm or wrist ailment and the winger is not expected to play this week.
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