Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Dawson Mercer has come a long way. Literally.
Mercer was born in Carbonear, Newfoundland, a city with a population of about 5,000 located on the west side of Conception Bay and one of the easternmost places in Canada, and was raised in Bay Roberts, another small town on the bay about 15 minutes south. So he understands how fortunate he is to be at this point.
"My town, it's an hour outside of St. John's," Mercer said. "Not many players are getting the opportunity to go on the big stage."
Relentless dedication, commitment and hard work have helped the 6-foot, 180-pound center get this far, including No. 6 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft.
"I've got a motor that I like to keep going," Mercer said. "I don't like to give anything up or give up on a play. I want to be at my best in all three zones. When you keep going to higher levels, there's only a little difference between each player and you want to be on the right side of that. I feel like these little qualities I have will give me the extra boost, whether it's having a positive attitude, giving 100 percent and not taking a shift off, being hard on your checks. All those little things matter and I take pride in doing those things well."
Mercer was excelling in his third season with Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 26 games, when he was traded to Chicoutimi on Jan. 6 and had 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 16 games. Chicoutimi went 9-5-2 with Mercer in the lineup.
"He jelled with the guys right away when he arrived," Chicoutimi coach Yanick Jean said. "He has a magnetic personality. Everybody likes to hang out with that kind of person. It is huge having a guy like him for a coach. When you have a player who plays both ways like he does, when you can generate offense like he does, he plays extremely well on both special teams units, as good on the wing as he does at center, it's huge for our team."
Mercer said he models his game after Boston Bruins center and four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron.
"He is a guy I'd love to play like and a guy every player should want to look up to because of how he plays a complete game," Mercer said. "He plays in all three zones and can play in all situations. He's the most complete player that you can watch. That's the type of player I feel like every coach loves."
Mercer also played for the Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. He made that team despite not being invited to the 2019 World Junior Summer Showcase in August, the first step in evaluating the pool of players that could take part in the WJC.
In addition to his strong start to the season with Drummondville, Mercer had three points (two goals, one assist) in two games with Team QMJHL against Team Russia during the QMJHL portion of the Canada Russia Series in November.
"Mercer was very good in that series," said Mark Hunter, who led Canada's 2020 WJC management group. "I thought he brought his game to another level. He played in every situation and handled every situation effectively. That's where during that series he was exciting to me to watch."
Mercer averaged 7:18 of ice time in seven games to help Canada win the championship. Not long after returning home, the magnitude of what he'd accomplished hit him.
"I went to show-and-tell with a little girl who is in Grade 2; our families are pretty close," Mercer said. "It was my old school I went to as well, in the same classroom with the same teacher I had in Grade 2. It was cool to show the kids I was in their shoes and that they can follow their dreams and make them come true as well. It was a cool flashback moment for me; all the kids were looking up in awe so it was an amazing feeling."
School has mattered to Mercer as much as hockey. In Grade 9 in 2015-16, he achieved an overall grade of 99 percent.
"I'm really particular about everything," he said. "I want to make sure I do the best I can, and if I don't I'm not really too satisfied. Same thing as on the ice. I give it 100 percent every time. For school it's the same thing, I'm really big on making sure I do my best and having no regrets."
In 2016-17, Mercer decided to attend Bishop's College School in Sherbrooke, Quebec. It was a long way from home but Mercer felt it was needed for him to progress in his hockey career.
"It was one of those sacrifices I needed to make," said Mercer, who was selected by Drummondville with the No. 8 pick of the 2017 QMJHL draft. "Nobody really wants to leave home, but I wanted to give myself the best option to pursue my dream and become a pro hockey player. Making that move I knew would give me a better chance. My parents gave me the option and they wanted me to make the final decision to make sure it's really what I wanted."
Three successful junior hockey seasons and a World Junior Championship title are proof he's on the right track.
Jean said he is confident Mercer quickly will be able to make the adjustment to the NHL level.
"There's no doubt about that," Jean said. "For him it's just a matter of taking a little physical maturity. Other than that, there's nothing that can keep him away from being a good player at the professional level."
Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class