Prior to the start of selection camp for the Canadian National Junior Team in December, director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski informed forward Lawson Crouse that doing the three things he does best would better serve his chances of earning a roster spot for the World Junior Championship.
The checklist included being first on the forecheck, finishing his checks and putting "the odd puck in the net in the blue paint." Nothing new to Crouse, since he considers himself an energy guy capable of doing the little things necessary to succeed. He also has one heck of a shot.
While no one would mistake Crouse for fellow 2015 NHL Draft-eligible center Connor McDavid, he did exactly what he was told to do and as a result played a vital fourth-line role in a gold medal-winning performance.
"Lawson is big (6-foot-4, 211 pounds), strong, plays a very straightforward game, he's exceptional on the penalty kill," Jankowski said. "Other guys are great players and I hope they don't feel slighted, they're going to get their opportunity, but in this case because of his size and his strength, and it being a big-man tournament, we felt Lawson was a real credible guy for us."
Crouse, ranked No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, was grateful for the opportunity to play with and against the finest junior-aged players in the world.
"I remember getting the news and Hockey Canada saying I made the team; there aren't many words to describe the feeling," he said. "It's something that I was able to celebrate with my family and I was on the phone with my dad right away."
Despite being the youngest player on the team, Crouse wasn't intimidated.
"I came in open-minded and went in with a good attitude and had nothing to lose," Crouse said. "I was here working my hardest and did everything I could to make the team."
He said he looked up to Canada captain Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators) and forward Anthony Duclair (Arizona Coyotes) for their leadership on and off the ice.
Not only did Crouse create chaos in the offensive end with a steady forecheck and some big body checks while in a bottom-six role, but he chipped in with one goal, three points and 14 shots on goal. NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards was one of the few veteran scouts to target Crouse as a blue-chip prospect even before his season began with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League.
"He's not a dirty player, but he hits so hard," Edwards told NHL.com. "He's a man and knows how to use that shoulder. There isn't a defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League that will stop him when he decides he's going to take the puck to the net."
"He's a big-bodied guy, protects the puck and is solid on his skates," Edwards said. "He sees the ice and moves the puck and barrels through everyone. He has real good hands to go along with that big frame."
Crouse began attracting attention last summer when he led Canada's Under-18 team to gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup with a team-high six goals. He also scored the game-winner to help Canada win bronze at the World U-18 Championship in April.
"The Ivan Hlinka was a huge tournament for me," Crouse said. "I guess I proved to myself that I can score and I can do other things than just play as a defensive forward, so obviously it was great to get out there and win a gold medal with Canada. My experience there really helped me when I came to World Junior selection camp for Canada."
Crouse impressed Canada WJC coach Benoit Groulx during the 2014 Super Series against Russia in Kingston, Ontario. Since that tournament, nothing Crouse did at the WJC surprised the gold medal-winning coach.
"Reports on him were very good and then I saw him in the Subway Series and watched him in Kingston and decided to have him join us at camp; he was very consistent," Groulx said. "Every time he's out there you know what he's giving you and you know what he's bringing to the table. He's a big body and likes to get involved. He's a smart player, solid with the puck and good on the power play."
His favorite player to watch growing up was Jarome Iginla, but he has since enjoyed the play of Rick Nash and Milan Lucic.
"I kind of find an even balance with my play between them both; I have an ability to score, but also have that mean streak like Lucic," Crouse said.
Crouse is looking forward to the draft, but knows he can't look too far ahead. He will likely become the 10th player in the history of the Frontenacs to be picked in the first round.
"Obviously your whole career is building up to [the NHL Draft] and you just have to go in open-minded and control what you can, like how hard you work," Crouse said. "You can't control the outside stuff, so I'm just trying to do my best and work as hard as I can to get to where I want to be."
When asked about the Erie Otters' McDavid, his World Junior teammate, Crouse smiled.
"He's a really special player," he said. "He's the complete package. He can do it all. It was pretty special being with him. Little bit different playing with him than against him. You learn about how nice a guy he is off the ice, stuff like that. I'm fortunate enough to have participated in the World Juniors and it made it special when you see that you can play alongside such a great name like Connor McDavid."
McDavid thought Crouse was a perfect fit for Canada at the WJC.
"He did a great job with it," McDavid said. "I know his position pretty well [as the youngest player on the Canada roster] since I was that guy [in 2014]. But I thought he did a great job. He played great at the tournament and did all the right things to make us a better team."