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Shining bright

The Canucks have a trio of promising young prospects playing in the NCAA.

by Tyson Giuriato @TysonGiuriato / Canucks freelance writer

Every Canucks fan should know the name Brock Boeser by now. A first round pick in 2015, Boeser won a bronze medal with the United States at the 2016 World Juniors, tore up the NCAA as a freshman in 2015-16 and is widely considered the top prospect in the organization.

However, it was announced earlier in the month that Boeser will be undergoing minor surgery on his right wrist and will be out of action for a few weeks, missing the World Juniors and chunk of games with North Dakota.

The Burnsville, Minn. product had posted 16 points (7-9-16) through 13 games so far this season despite playing through the injury. He should be back by the end of January.

With Boeser taking a backseat for a few weeks to recover, Canucks fans should turn their attention to a pair of fellow NCAA prospects that are shining bright.

At the University of Michigan is Will Lockwood. A third round pick by the Canucks in 2016, the 5-foot-11 forward has turned heads as a true freshman. He currently leads the Wolverines in points with 12 (6-6-12) in 16 games and has impressed his legendary coach, Red Berenson.

"I like his work ethic," said Berenson, who has been the Michigan head coach since 1984. "In hockey terms, they say he has a motor. Every day he brings it and he is all out. He is a good skater, is above average for speed and agility, and he competes hard. For a young player like he is, he has a lot of good intangibles."

After spending two seasons with the United States National Team Development Program in the USHL, Lockwood made the jump to Michigan this season at the age of 18 and has found himself playing a top role, despite being the youngest forward on the team.

"He has been on our first line just about every game," said Berenson. "He plays on our first power play unit and is one of our top six penalty killing forwards. He has a great role with us."

Berenson has seen his share of talent come through his system at Michigan: Mike Cammalleri, Andrew Cogliano, Mike Comrie, Carl Hagelin, Jack Johnson, Brendan Morrison, Max Pacioretty, and on and on and on. Has the play of Lockwood so far this season surprised him at all?

"I am more impressed than I am surprised," said Berenson. "His dad played for me so I know the family well. I got to see Will as he developed playing in the U.S. National Development Program, so we knew the player pretty well. But to be able to bring it to this level, and do it consistently, has been really impressive. Even in our off-ice workouts, he has been way above average. Running, jumping or doing stadium steps, whatever we needed, he was right there at the top."

The big test for Lockwood has been the last month or so. After scoring six times in his first 10 games, he has failed to score in his last seven outings, picking up just two assists along the way. A streak like that could damage a young player's confidence. For Lockwood, it motivated him even more.

"He was still playing well, he just couldn't score," said Berenson. "He was still fore-checking and hitting. He actually leads our team in hits.

"I don't think he measures himself by points, but he knows he needs to contribute. He is a self-motivated kid and when things aren't going well, he just works harder. There is no give-up in him, it's just go-harder."

As for projecting Lockwood in the long run, only time will tell what exactly the Canucks have with him.

"I don't know if he will be a guy that can finish every night or finish every once in a while," said Berenson. "I don't know if he is going to be a playmaker, or a scorer, or a hard working two-way player. But he has possibilities.

"He has good potential in a lot of areas."

Meanwhile, over 600 miles to the east, another Canucks prospect that impressed during his freshman season continues to turn heads now in his second year at Northeastern University.

For Adam Gaudette, the story differs from Lockwood. Gaudette didn't fair too well prior to the holiday break during his freshman year, before he turned on the production during the second half of the season. That momentum has carried over into this season, and then some.

The Canucks' fifth round, 149th overall, pick in 2015 has tallied 22 points (9-13-22) in 16 games so far.

"He has come back and elevated his game," said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. "His confidence level is through the roof. Building off of last season and coming back this year, he and (linemate) Dylan Sikura have great chemistry together, even better than they did last year. Whoever we put with them fits in as those two carry the line. They are different players but the two of them together carry a lot."

Gaudette is a workhorse. He was last season and he is again this season. His feet don't stop moving and the energy he brings has helped him succeed offensively.

"It's a big part of his DNA," said Madigan. "That relentless pursuit and relentless drive allows him to be so much more effective than someone who just has skill. He has skill and sense, but he also has that drive, competiveness and fire to be great. That is what pushes him every day. He is relentless in his pursuit. He wants the puck and will go get the puck. He wants the puck on his stick because he wants to make plays."

Madigan spent 18 seasons as a scout in the NHL with the Islanders and Penguins. He sees an NHL player in Gaudette, but the question is, when?

"Every NHL team has a different philosophy when it comes to the types of players they are going to draft," said Madigan. "Some may put more of an emphasis on hockey sense versus skill versus competitiveness. He has a perfect blend of competitive spirit and drive, he has got hockey sense, and he has got skill. Those three things help you to be successful at the NHL level. He needs to get stronger. He needs to improve that first-step quickness.

"His game has transitioned so much over the last year and half that for me the question has now become 'will he have to play in the AHL when he is finished college?'"

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