The last few weeks have been full of memorable moments for Lawson Crouse. Between hitting home runs and throwing the opening pitch at Marlins Park, being selected 11th overall by the Florida Panthers in front of the hometown fans and attending his first Development Camp, Florida’s 2015 first rounder capped things off with his first National Hockey League contract.
“It’s a pretty special moment for myself and my family,” said Crouse to the South Florida media following his contract announcement. “Obviously I was very thrilled to get it out of the way and get on with the summer, get training and be ready for September.”
Entering the 2015 NHL Draft as one of North America’s top rated skaters, the six-foot-four, 215-pound winger’s blend of tenacity and skill was an enticing option for Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon. After getting a glimpse of Florida’s newest first round draft pick at Development Camp, Tallon recognized what the youngster could add to the Panthers lineup and how soon.
“I’m excited about his abilities, his determination, his character and all of those things… and toughness,” said Tallon. “He [brings] a dimension we’ve been looking for for a long time. We feel very fortunate to have him as a Panther and he deserves a contract.”
“When we interviewed him prior to drafting him, we asked, ‘when do you think you’re going to play in the NHL?’ His goal was to play right away. He believes it, so he’s going to get every opportunity to earn that spot.’
With expectations that he could make an immediate impact for the Panthers, Crouse is prepared for the type of pressure that comes with being not only a first round draft pick, but now a player with a contract.
“I have expectations too,” said Crouse. “For me, my expectations are to come in and make that team. It’s nice to see [Tallon] does have confidence in me as a player. At the end of the day, it’s up to me in whether I come ready and make that team.”
If the day comes that Crouse is named to the roster in South Florida this season, the 18-year old won’t have to look too far to find a teammate that can relate to his transition from the Draft floor to the NHL. It wasn’t too long ago that an 18-year old D Aaron Ekblad was selected first overall by the Panthers at the 2014 NHL Draft and quickly made the jump to the show.
Winning the 2015 Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year and learning the ropes of a life beyond Major Junior Hockey, Ekblad could be a valuable resource for young Crouse.
“It’s obviously something that would be nice,” said Crouse. “If I do make the team, having [Ekblad] there would be that much more special, to kind of guide me along. He went through it last year, I’m sure he could have a lot of input and a lot of advice for me.”
With his first NHL contract in hand, these last few weeks are starting to sink in for the Mt. Brydges, Ont. native. After such a whirlwind turnaround in South Florida from the Draft to Development Camp, Crouse has now had time to reflect on some of his early accomplishments and is anxious to add more to the list.
“I’m a pretty lucky kid. It’s been my goal to play in the NHL since I was a young boy. I’m one step closer to that goal.”