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Lawson Crouse playing leading role for Canada

Panthers prospect spearheading quest for 2017 WJC gold medal

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Canada forward Lawson Crouse has seen the highs and the lows at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

The Florida Panthers prospect is hoping to ride that high one more time at the 2017 WJC.

Crouse is one of eight returning players for Canada taking part in the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, but he has more experience than anyone else on the roster.

Before being selected by the Panthers with the No. 11 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, he helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2015 WJC in Montreal and Toronto. But last year, he was part of the team that finished sixth in Finland.

Now Crouse is hoping he gets a third chance to play in the WJC, which will be back in Toronto and Montreal from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, and potentially win another medal. If Crouse plays for Canada, he'll be counted on as a leader on and off the ice.

"For me, I think I lead by example," Crouse said. "By just working hard day in and day out, that's the way I can lead. I'll say something when something needs to be said. But for the most part, I'm just leading by example."

Crouse would become the seventh player to skate in the WJC three times for Canada, joining Eric Lindros (1990-92), Martin Lapointe (1991-93), Jason Botterill (1994-96), Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza (2000-02), St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (2000-02) and Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis (2009-11).

In Canada's first game at camp, a 2-1 overtime loss to Finland at USA Hockey Arena on Wednesday, Crouse played left wing on Canada's top line. He didn't have a point but helped set up linemate Travis Konecny's first-period goal.

Video: Development Camp: Day five

But as much as what he does on the ice, Crouse is looked at as a leader because of his WJC experience.

"It's experience you can't buy," Canada coach Dominique Ducharme said. "Obviously guys are aware of that. I think the first thing he needs to do is to play like he can be playing and be himself, and guys are looking up to him. Through any situation or things we talk about, he can relate to the importance of those little details we talk about."

As the youngest player with Canada at the 2015 WJC, Crouse had three points in seven games en route to the gold medal. He said he remembers the shock of how fast and physical the tournament was.

"It's a completely different environment," he said. "You're playing against some older guys, the skill is so much higher and the speed. Just adapting to this type of game. It's a very physical and speedy game, and you're just doing your best to adapt to that right off the bat. What helped me out was I had some really good leaders there with [Curtis] Lazar (Ottawa Senators), [Max] Domi (Arizona Coyotes) and [Anthony] Duclair (Coyotes), and they guided me along the way."

Crouse had a larger role at the 2016 WJC and tied for third on Canada with five points in five games, but a 6-5 loss to Finland in the quarterfinals ended the tournament for the Canadians. Crouse learned as much from the disappointment of 2016 as he did from the championship in 2015.

"When you go through the losing stage of it you can look back, and we know exactly what not to do now," he said. "I've been through both, the winning and the losing. I can just do my best to preach what we have to do different from last year and continue on with the winning mindset."

That mindset already has permeated Canada's locker room.

"You can tell in the locker room and on the ice just how mature he is as a player and a person," defenseman Dante Fabbro (Nashville Predators) said. "From what I've heard and seen so far, he's been that guy to speak up, and if things need to be said … he sets things by example. He's a mature leader, all-around great guy."

That's the kind of message the Hockey Canada staff hopes Crouse sends.

"He's a great leader," head scout Ryan Jankowski said. "He does everything right. He's a great example for everyone else. Him just being at this camp is huge to set the tone with what the expectations are for the players who haven't been to the World Juniors before."

It's not just the first-time players like Fabbro taking their cues from Crouse. Mitchell Stephens (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Konecny (Philadelphia Flyers) are two of eight players from Canada's 2016 WJC team in camp this week, and they said Crouse is a player the other veterans watch.

"The experience, the leadership aspects are top-notch," Stephens said. "He's a key component to this team. Last year he was as well. He was one of the four returning players [from the 2015 WJC]. A lot of us young guys, the first-timers, deal with the nerves and the crowd and things like that. His third time here, I would say he would take charge and be that leader."

Said Konecny: "He steps up when he has to and he speaks. … He's always speaking his mind and making sure the guys are on track. You'd expect that from a guy coming back for his third chance at the World Juniors. We all look up to him. He's as good role model for all the guys on the team."

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