Of the top prospects available in the 2015 NHL Draft, Lawson Crouse seems to be the most divisive.
On the one hand, he’s 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds at just 17 years of age, already possessing the frame of the quintessential power forward. The NHL’s Central Scouting Service ranks him fifth overall among North American skaters, and he could very well be a top-five draft pick come late June.
“He’s the prototypical power winger,” said Tony MacDonald, the Canes’ head of amateur scouting. “He’s a big man who plays a very physical game. He’s a great skater.”
On the other hand, his offensive numbers from 2014-15 – 51 points (29g, 22a) in 59 games – don’t compare favorably against his fellow top prospects, some of whom doubled a point-per-game pace.
“He gets knocked a little bit because of the perceived lack of skill, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair,” MacDonald explained. “He had 29 goals playing on probably what you’d call a mediocre team.”
|LEFT WING |
|HOMETOWN: MT. BRYDGES, ONTARIO |
|HEIGHT: 6'4" |
|WEIGHT: 215 |
|BIRTHDAY: JUNE 23, 1997 (AGE 17) |
The Kingston Frontenacs finished sixth (out of 10) in the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, posting 72 points (32-28-8) in 68 games, a skosh above hockey .500. While their 196 goals-for ranked fourth-worst in the OHL, Crouse led the team in goals and points.
“Due to injuries to some of their personnel, including [Sam] Bennett who sat out most of the season, [Crouse] was pretty much left to his own devices to manufacture as much offense as he could,” MacDonald said. “For a kid to score 29 goals under those circumstances is pretty good.”
As a 17-year-old, Crouse was named to and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship. He recorded three points (1g, 2a) in seven tournament games and was one of just two players on Canada’s roster yet to be drafted into the NHL, the other, of course, being Connor McDavid.
“He was in kind of an underdog position in terms of making the team. He forced their hand and made them keep him through his solid play in camp and in the exhibition games,” MacDonald said. “He made a significant contribution to the gold medal-winning effort. He killed penalties and a little power play here and there, but he was used in more of a shutdown role, more energy and physicality. He proved that he can step in and play with the best players in the world.”
The intangibles are evident, and in spite of how polarizing Crouse may be, he still figures to be among the top players selected in the 2015 NHL Draft.
“He’s got a good shot. Would you call him a sniper? Maybe not, but he can shoot the puck. He can get it to the net. He scores a lot of goals in the paint. He’s the kind of guy when he’s surrounded by good players and playing with good players, he responds in kind and is even better,” MacDonald said. “He’s the kind of winger everybody is looking for.”