GLENDALE - Only 10 players were selected before Lawson Crouse at the 2015 NHL Draft. That means the Coyotes have not one, but two players taken within the first 11 of that draft at this year's Rookie Camp.
Like Dylan Strome, whom the Coyotes drafted third overall in 2015, Crouse is trying to stand out among his peers before the veterans report to the main camp on Friday.
After just three skates with his new team, Crouse already feels at home.
"I love it," Crouse said after Monday's practice at Gila River Arena. "It's a great atmosphere and a great group of guys to be with. The prospect group that we have here is very competitive and (there are) a lot of skilled guys, so it's great to be a part of it."
The Coyotes like how quickly Crouse has adapted to his new environment and they look forward to him competing for a job at left wing.
"He's a big, impressive, strong player," Associate Coach Jim Playfair said. "He's a great skater with a big body and very effective in front of the net. He's got great hand-eye coordination and he's touched a lot of pucks the last couple of days. He's a real good person and has fit into the group very well … We really feel he's done a good job in that area and we feel he's a real strong, bona fide future NHL player."
Crouse, who models his game after NHL icon Jarome Iginla, came to the Valley a few weeks before camp to get acclimated to the area because he'd never been to Arizona. During that time he skated informally with other prospects and veterans, including Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who gave him some advice.
"He just said 'Do what you do,'" Crouse said. "I mean, that's as easy as it sounds. You've just got to be yourself, play to your capabilities and do what got you here. So that's what I'm going to try and do."
Like Doan, Crouse is a power forward.
"I play strong, I play mean and I do whatever it takes to help the team win and make the players around me better players," Crouse said. "Whether it's sticking up for a teammate or blocking a shot or doing whatever it takes, I'm in it for the team. I'm in it to win the game, that's just the way I was raised. I'm a very competitive guy. That's the way I play my game."
Crouse played the past three seasons for Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League. Last season he notched 23 goals and 39 assists in 49 games and was considered Florida's top prospect. That's why the trade that sent him from the Panthers to Arizona just over a year after he was drafted raised some eyebrows, including his.
"It was a little surprising and I didn't really know what to think at the time," Crouse said. "It's my first time ever being traded. But once I kind of looked back at it, I let it all sink in. It's a great opportunity for myself and once I sat back with my family and talked about it, we were very happy. Obviously, I'm very proud to be part of this organization."
The Coyotes insisted the Panthers included Crouse in the trade, in which they took on the contract of Dave Bolland.
"We just felt like by taking a broader look at our prospect pool, if there was one area where we could improve upon, it would be adding a power forward of Lawson's ability," Coyotes General Manager John Chyaka said Aug. 25, the day the trade was announced.
Crouse was sitting next to Strome at a rink when he got the call that he was traded to Arizona, and they hugged it out after Crouse broke the news. Crouse also saw his pal Max Domi later that day and let him know they had become teammates.
Like Domi did a year ago, Crouse is hoping to jump to the NHL the year after he was drafted.
"I really haven't looked too far ahead right now," Crouse said. "I'm just living in the present, taking it day by day and getting better each and every day. So when that time comes, I'll look back and see what I did well here and learn from that to make sure that I'm better at main camp."