Like Noah sent the animals into ark, the Vancouver Canucks are sending players to Abbotsford two-by-two.
After their first largescale cut, the Canucks have been chipping players from their roster in pairs. Danila Klimovich and Jonah Gadjovich were cut as a pair, then Mikey DiPietro and Sheldon Dries. The team’s latest cut was a duo of young prospects, who were both sent to the Abbotsford Canucks: Will Lockwood and Carson Focht.
Will Lockwood takes a hit
23-year-old winger Will Lockwood made an impression at training camp and the preseason with his speed and physicality. Lockwood is blazing fast and combines that with a willingness to leverage that speed into the bodies of his opponents.
That speed makes up for some of his lack of size, as he is able to catch opponents off guard and send them flying, as Luke Schenn found out in a scrimmage.
“I think I maybe caught him by surprise a little bit,” said Lockwood. “I think if we were to go toe-to-toe and he would know I'm coming, he probably would get the best of me but that plays towards my game. I don't think a lot of guys expect me to go out there and hit him especially a bigger guy like Schenner, so I can use that element of surprise to my advantage.”
Lockwood’s physical game continued into the preseason, as he regularly looked for the opportunity to throw a hit in every zone.
As a result, Lockwood was a menace on the forecheck. On top of that, he was regularly first to pucks. His speed is a factor at the NHL level, as he can create separation with just a couple of strides.
Lockwood had a very strong season in terms of puck possession because of this ability to win pucks with both his speed and physicality. In his three preseason games where shot information was tracked, Lockwood had a 64.41% corsi — the Canucks out-attempted their opponents 38-to-21 when he was on the ice.
Only veterans Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Bo Horvat have a better corsi so far on the Canucks.
Even more impressively, he showed an ability to get under the skin of top opponents, goading Connor McDavid into a penalty in his game against the Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks scored their first goal of the game on the penalty he drew.
So, why is Lockwood getting sent down? Why isn’t he being pencilled into a bottom-six role already?
There are a few factors. One is that he’s exempt from waivers, unlike any of the other players challenging for a spot on the fourth line. That makes it much easier to send him to Abbotsford and have him available as a call-up.
Another is that his penalty killing is still a work in progress. The Canucks’ penalty kill has struggled all preseason as head coach Travis Green and his staff have auditioned multiple forwards in a penalty killing role to replace the departed Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, and injured Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte.
The potential for Lockwood to be a solid penalty killer is there — he has good defensive instincts and dangerous speed — but some of the refinement isn’t quite there with his positioning and stick. That’s certainly something he can learn but the Canucks would likely prefer he learn in the AHL.
Finally, some of that same lack of refinement shows up at 5-on-5, where the details of his game are just a hair short of what Green wants to see. That’s shown up in the preseason on breakouts, in particular. With his speed, Lockwood ought to be fantastic in transition but he hasn’t always been in the right spot on the ice and his passes haven’t been as crisp as they need to be.
Lockwood is aware of these issues and it’s something he’s focused on improving.
“That's one of the biggest differences in this league is guys are always in the right spots,” he said. “For a guy like me, sometimes I skate myself out of position, so that's something I want to focus on, stopping and starting a little bit more and just being a guy a coach can trust.”
As much as it would’ve been nice to see someone with his skillset in Vancouver, starting the season in the AHL wouldn’t be the worst thing for Lockwood. He has just 24 games in the AHL under his belt during last season’s odd pandemic-influenced schedule.
Lockwood really came into his own in the back half of those games, scoring 8 points in his last 11 games. Playing a big role with the Abbotsford Canucks — first-line minutes at 5-on-5 and both sides of special teams — can only help him and make him a better, more well-rounded player for when he inevitably gets called up.
That’s not how it’s pronounced: Carson Focht
Carson Focht’s last name is pronounced like how you might feel at the end a long session listening to Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Joaan Baez, and Bob Dylan: completely folked.
The Canucks like Focht’s hard-working defensive game at centre, a position where they don’t have a ton of depth. Unfortunately for Focht, he started camp on the wrong foot. He was on the ice for the first day of rookie camp but had to leave the ice with an unknown injury. As a result, he missed most of training camp, instead skating with fellow injury-rehabbers Tyler Motte and Guillaume Brisebois.
Focht still got an extended look in the preseason, playing three games. He held his own, which is promising, but also didn’t stand out in any particular way. That’s not a knock on Focht — he’s 21 and has yet to play a full season of professional hockey.
Focht had 12 points in 28 AHL games last season and will get plenty of opportunities to improve on those numbers this season in Abbotsford. He could also be in line for a call-up if the Canucks face injury problems at centre.