22-years-old with a healthy dose of experience to lay a sturdy foundation to fit his 6'4" 220 lbs. frame, Lawson Crouse is coming off a season where he set career-highs in goals, points, assists, and shots.
He's worked for it.
Playing in all but one of the Coyotes' 82 games last year, Crouse invigorated a roster that struggled to stay healthy while more than doubling his point production from his rookie season.
"For me, last year was just about holding onto pucks and realizing when I have an extra second to make a play," he said, looking back on his 25-point campaign. "I felt I was working hard each and every day, I was focusing on the small things, I was having a positive mindset that I wanted to get better, to not be satisfied with just being okay."
Crouse's developmental process, one that has shown genuine progression, earned him a three-year contract on July 2. That contract news came in the middle of a summer he described as one that centered on a hard training regimen.
Noting the amped up pace of the team's initial training camp skates, Crouse feels comfortable - a word he abhors - knowing that his 4-5 months of offseason preparation have allowed him to be physically adept to not only maintain that pace, but push it.
That's about as complacent as you'll see the power forward get.
"I hate the word 'comfortable'," he said when asked about the security in signing a new contract. "For me, that's not a good word. Yeah, I signed on for three more years, but I still have a lot to prove. I want to take my game to the next level, I'm willing to do it, I've put in the work all summer and I'm ready to put in the work this year."
His drive to consistently improve, and the work he puts in to become a better player, is evident to head coach Rick Tocchet.
"His work ethic is high, I don't have to baby-sit him when it comes to work ethic," said Tocchet. "The confidence level he has from playing last year has really helped, and you can tell, he looks really good out there, I like the way he's competing."
Finishing last season with 11 goals to his name, Crouse looks to keep pushing for a continued upsurge in his scoring.
"I don't think it's a secret, we need offense," he said. "For me, I just want to keep building on how I finished last year. I'm a big believer in being confident, self-confidence and portraying that positive energy. When you put your mind to something, anything's possible, your mind is so powerful, the energy you put out is the energy you get in return. I want to continue on my offensive abilities and help put some more goals up on the board."
Described as a player with a "rare" combination of abilities by President of Hockey Operations and GM John Chayka after his contract signing in July, Crouse has shown a game that fuses energy, physicality, a knack to get to the net, and a responsible 200-foot game.
"At the end of the day, everyone in the locker room is a key piece to the organization, everyone brings a unique skill-set that molds together our team, and when guys figure that out and they realize that, I think it improves the team a lot more," he said when speaking of his strengths. "It's very exciting, it's hockey season again, it's what we love to do and it's what we're paid to do. There are a lot of bright futures in this locker room here, it's just about staying healthy and showing what we're made of."
For many of the Coyotes' youth core, last season was the first true taste of playoff-like hockey, it was the first time many played meaningful games into late February, March, and April.
Like Crouse, many of those players are coming into their prime, and that 2018-19 experience, though ending unfortunately, has only helped accelerate their growth process.
"We were so close last year, and when we were eliminated it was a really tough feeling, he said. "But now it's exciting, we know what it takes, we know that every second of every game counts. Everyone wants to be in the playoffs, everyone wants to win a Stanley Cup, but it's not easy to win. You've got to put the work in and be ready to go each and every day."
With work will come results. Crouse has exemplified that. The same is expected for a Coyotes team that's approaching a season brimming with promise.