Quinn Hughes led the University of Michigan Wolverines in scoring this past season with 33 points in 32 games. Another Canucks prospect, however, led all Michigan forwards in scoring: William Lockwood.
When the Wolverines’ top forward, Ottawa Senators prospect Josh Norris, suffered a season-ending injury at the World Junior Championships in January, it was up to Lockwood to lead the team. He met the challenge head on, scoring 11 of his 16 goals over the final 17 games of the season.
Lockwood set new career highs in goals and points in his junior year, with 31 point in 36 games. There’s a strong argument that the 20-year-old winger is ready to take the next step into professional hockey.
That’s definitely something the Canucks should want. If Lockwood returns to Michigan for his senior year, he could become an unrestricted free agent next summer, 30 days after graduating. It would make sense for the Canucks to avoid even the possibility of losing Lockwood by signing him as soon as possible.
According to Jim Benning, Lockwood will make his decision next week.
“I talked to Will this morning,” said Benning on Monday. “He’s going to take this week to speak to his coaches at Michigan, next weekend he’s going to talk to his mom and dad, and then he’s going to get back to me early next week as to what his decision is.”
Anyone looking for Hughes to provide some inside information on his Michigan teammate's plans was disappointed on Tuesday. Hughes has steered clear of that topic of conversation with Lockwood.
“It’s kind of his business, so I don’t really try to get in there,” said Hughes. “But he had a tremendous year and I think whatever he does, it won’t hurt him.”
The question is whether it will hurt the Canucks, who need as many wingers with top-six potential in their prospect system as possible. After the Jonathan Dahlen trade and the struggles of Kole Lind in Utica this season, Lockwood is arguably the Canucks’ top prospect on the wing.
While Lockwood projects as more of a bottom-six winger with the physical edge to his game, he’s an intriguing prospect because of his raw tools. He has blazing speed, controls the puck well, and can score with his wrist shot, one-timer, or by getting his hands dirty in front of the net. The question is whether he can put those tools together with his hockey sense to become a legitimate top-six forward.
When he was drafted, Benning compared him to Jannik Hansen. If he can live up to that comparison and be a good two-way, complementary winger that can move up and down the lineup, that would be a great result.
But first, the Canucks have to get him signed. There are a few ways this could go: the Canucks could sign him next week and get him into NHL games that would take a year off his entry-level contract. They could sign him and get him into Utica to play for the Comets to finish off the year. Or they could sign him in the summer and start things fresh in the 2019-20 season.
“We want to do what’s right for him,” said Benning. “He has a decision to make. He can go back to school and play out one more year of school and our intention would be to get him signed at the end of next year. Or if he decides that he wants to turn pro, then we’ll work with him and get him into Utica and get him up and going and help with his development.”
“He’s had shoulder surgery and so I think that’s going to weigh in a little bit on his decision,” he added. “There’s still some work that he wants to do this summer to get a hundred percent healthy, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Lockwood has had two surgeries on his left shoulder: one in the summer of 2017 and one in January of 2018 after the World Junior tournament. He’s been healthy with Michigan all season, playing in all 36 games for the Wolverines, with no indication that he’s been playing through injury, but perhaps there are some lingering issues. If Lockwood does want to get started on his off-season training a little early to make sure his shoulder is strong enough for the start of next season, that would preclude playing for the Canucks or Comets right now.
Hopefully, the Canucks can get a deal done. Otherwise, there could be some nervous nights in a year’s time.