The competition is wide open for the right side of the 4th line on the Vancouver Canucks. It’s either go big in Zack MacEwen or Alex Chiasson, or go quicker with someone like Will Lockwood. He has high-end speed and a non-stop engine. This concept raises many questions.
For one, Lockwood just turned age-23 this summer and the coaching staff may not want a young team, particularly this forward group, to get any younger. That said, MacEwen just recently turned 25. The savvy veteran option is Chiasson, age-30, a man with proven stick-to-itiveness. This is the third PTO opportunity in his career and he cashed in on the previous two, which includes winning a Stanley Cup after making the Washington Capitals in 2017.
Chiasson provides a big net-front presence, including potentially on the 2nd power play unit, puck tip-ability, and some bulk. MacEwen is a big body as well at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, just a wee bit smaller than Chiasson. But is this the latest and greatest way to present “tough to play against?” Lockwood plays two-ways, has non-stop hustle, and he can actually catch up to and hit people. In this most modern of NHL’s, you can only hassle someone if you can catch them. Lockwood is head and shoulders above the other two in this category and would make an excellent F1 on the forecheck. He got a quick taste of the NHL pace with two games against the Calgary Flames at the end of last season in May.
“You watch the games growing up on TV and you really never know (the speed), you skate with some of the guys in the summer time but you’re never in one of those real games, so I was kind of watching the game (vs. Calgary) afterwards and had the realization maybe my speed is where it needs to be,” Lockwood ascertained. “I’m always looking to improve it. But it’s good to know I’m in a spot where I can create some separation at this level.”
Imagine Head Coach Travis Green rolling four lines where the fourth line presents an annoyingly fast and consistent additional scoring threat. Which of course also brings us to another con. Where would one find the Vancouver Canucks team toughness and durability if no one’s around to intimidate and keep order? Not in the classic enforcer/goon category of course, that’s gone away, but in the simple physical presence. The Toronto Maple Leafs have failed miserably in the postseason the last decade mainly because they check all of these negative boxes. Sure they’re talented and quick, but when the intensity picks up, they’re not big enough, they’re not hard enough to play against, and they’re simply not tough enough. The winning formula remains balance. See Chicago, Boston, LA, Pittsburgh, Washington, St. Louis, and Tampa in that order.
Early in his university career at Michigan Lockwood injured a shoulder, soon re-injured it, and eventually had surgery. The shoulder is completely healed and feels great now and obviously it hasn’t slowed his foot speed.
“It’s a combination of things, it’s not just quite the speed,” Lockwood said. “It’s that mentality of getting to that puck first and being in the right position. That’s one of the biggest differences in this league, the guys are always in the right spots. For a guy like me I sometimes skate myself out of position, so that’s something I want to focus on. Stopping and starting more and just being a guy the coaches can trust.”
Then there’s the classic, “Do you really want this young feisty, fast winger playing only ten or eleven minutes a night on the fourth line. when he could be playing eighteen or nineteen minutes in the American League. Again, it depends on the others in the line-up and what constitutes “tough to play against.” Lockwood is waiver exempt so the Canucks can send him up and down when wanted or needed. If an injury to someone else occurs, do you want him called up from the Abbotsford Canucks, or do you want him simply moved up a line or two with the Vancouver Canucks while continuing to learn the NHL game? Part of that learning involves taking care of one’s body and being aware of limitations. It also helps answer questions about durability and maturity.
“When you’re in college you’re not necessarily the healthiest human being, you know how it goes, so turning pro was nice, the body generally feels good a lot, taking care of it, eating well and things like that,” Lockwood said. “Obviously you play long enough you’re going to get hurt, 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 that’s not as well prepared.”
It’s not as if we’re talking about a 19-year-old former first rounder who the organization is trying to groom and protect. We’re not expecting him to compete for or step into Brock Boeser’s spot. This is a bottom-six guy who could potentially play regularly or fill in when necessary. His fine performance Thursday on Day-1, including blowing away his cohorts in the end-of-practice bag skate, and his presence in the scrimmages has made an impression. There’s a good chance he gets a look in the first exhibition game against Seattle on Sunday in Spokane.