The crowd was louder, the pace was faster, and the game was more intense on Saturday as the Vancouver Canucks played their second scrimmage of training camp.
No one demonstrated that more than Will Lockwood. While he’s far from the biggest player at camp, Lockwood demonstrated that size isn’t everything when he buried the hefty Luke Schenn with a massive hit.
As the rookie, Lockwood was magnanimous about the hit and suggested it could have gone very differently.
“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.”
That element of surprise is key to Lockwood’s game. A defenceman can check over his shoulder and see Lockwood far away but his tremendous speed means he can get on top of a player far faster than they expect. It’s akin to Sir Lancelot in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, suddenly attacking a castle guard after they saw him running in the distance.
“It's a common pattern when you catch a D-man by surprise. If you're not stealing the puck, it's the next guy,” said Lockwood. “You force him to cough it up if you can get your feet moving and put pressure on early and catch them off guard a little bit.”
"I can create some separation at this level."
Lockwood’s speed has been a separating factor at every level and it’s been the same story at Canucks camp. In drills, he can create quick separation with a burst of speed and, in the scrimmage, he was first to pucks where it seemed like he had no chance.
It also led to several big hits, not just the one on Schenn.
Even at the NHL level, Lockwood’s speed was noticeable in his two-game audition last season. It gave the young winger a jolt of confidence.
“You watch the games growing up on TV and you never really know,” said Lockwood. “You skate with some of those guys in the summertime but you're never in one of those real games.
“I was watching the game afterwards and had a little realization — maybe my speed is where it needs to be. I'm always looking to improve it but it's nice to know that I'm at a spot where I can create some separation at this level.”
For Lockwood, it’s also been about learning the mindset of how to best use his speed.
“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.”
"I really go in there with no fear."
Lockwood’s speed is not his only separating factor. As he showed in the scrimmage, his physical play goes beyond what some of the bigger players at camp can deliver. He demonstrates that size isn’t the only element in playing physical: speed and mentality can play a big role.
That mentality — the confidence to throw the body around and play fearlessly — was in jeopardy after some difficult shoulder injuries in his college career.
“When you're just getting out of an injury like that, it's something that's kind of in the back of your head,” said Lockwood. “But I do so much preparation, as far as keeping my shoulders, my body healthy, so I really go in there with no fear, knowing that I've taken care of that part outside of the rink.
“By the time I step on the ice, it's something I don't have to worry about.”
That’s a similar sentiment expressed by Brock Boeser after he suffered his back injury. He said that when he first entered the league, he felt invincible, but his injury helped him realize how much he needed to prepare for every practice and game so that he can trust in his body. It’s been the same experience for Lockwood.
“When you're in college, you're not necessarily the healthiest human being, you know how it goes,” said Lockwood with a wry smile. “Coming back from an injury, I took all the positives I could out of it as far as getting it to a point where I'll never have to deal with it again.
“Obviously, you play long enough, you're gonna get hurt and that's just the way it goes. But the way I see it, there's a lot of things you can do off the ice to prevent some injuries that may happen to a guy who's not as well prepared. Decreasing that percentage of getting hurt is a big factor, for my game especially. If I can go on the ice and play pretty fearless, that's the way I want to be all the time.”
Lockwood has a real shot at the opening night lineup
Making the Canucks out of training camp will be a tough challenge for Lockwood, who has a lot of competition for a spot on the fourth line. He’s also one of the few players at camp who is exempt from waivers, so it would be easy for the Canucks to start him in Abbotsford in the AHL and have him earn his way up to Vancouver.
With his performance in training camp — not to mention the questionable status of Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte — he’s definitely put himself in the conversation to make the opening night roster. He brings more physicality than many larger players and his speed could be a major boon on the forecheck. Maybe the Canucks’ coaches should ask Luke Schenn if Lockwood has what it takes.
“I thought it was good to go out there show a little bit of grit, so I felt pretty good about that,” said Lockwood.