CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. –
There isn’t much that intimidates Lawson Crouse.
An old-school, two-way forward, the Florida Panthers’ prospect is often referred to as “The Sheriff,” a nickname bestowed upon him by his junior teammates for his protective nature when patrolling the ice.
It’s a fitting moniker, given both Crouse’s stern demeanor and in-your-face attitude, but also because it perfectly encapsulates everything there is to love about his game. He plays a position that every team needs, but it’s not a role that can be simply categorized as something like an enforcer.
With a unique blend of size and skill, 6-foot-4, 212-pound Crouse has the ability to contribute equally on both offense and defense, but it all starts with his very general physical approach to the game.
"I play a big, strong, physical game," Crouse said. "It doesn't matter who I'm playing or where I'm playing. I'm going to play the same way I've always played."
The No. 11 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Crouse’s various skills were on full display at Florida’s annual development camp at the Panthers IceDen earlier this summer. He dominated one-on-one drills and, when given the opportunity, showed off the blistering shot that helped him score 23 goals and 62 points in 49 games for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League this past season.
“It’s development camp, so I’m just trying to do whatever I can,” Crouse said. “I’m just doing the natural things that I do well. You’re working on stuff that maybe you’re not working on back home, so it’s a fun time to come here and learn some new things and work on a lot of different skill aspects of the game.”
Of the 41 prospects that attended this year’s camp, Crouse is one of a very small group of players with a very real chance to crack the Panthers’ lineup during the upcoming season. At 19 years old, he remains ineligible to join Florida’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, but is nevertheless confident that he can make the jump right to the National Hockey League.
“I think that you have to have that positive mindset if you want to play in (the NHL) eventually,” said Crouse, who can compete in nine regular-season games with the Panthers before his entry-level contract goes into effect. “I think I’m ready. I think I’ve matured enough, but at the end of the day, it’s what I do here in camp. I’m not looking ahead to that, though. I’m just looking at what I’m trying to do at this camp and then I’ll worry about that stuff later.”
In order to keep his skills sharp heading into what promises to be an exciting training camp battle in September, Crouse is currently attending Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp in Toronto. Already a two-time participant at the IIHF World Junior Championships, Crouse previously helped Canada capture a gold medal at the annual tournament in 2015.
“The biggest thing is it’s a tough tournament,” Crouse told the Toronto Sun.
“Winning isn’t easy. In life it’s the same thing. You kind of just have to push through any adversity you come to. That’s what we’re preaching, that this tournament isn’t going to be easy.”
No, winning another World Junior Championship certainly won’t be easy, but neither will be earning a full-time spot with the Panthers – a challenge Crouse eagerly awaits.
"I feel the Panthers will do what's best for my development so whatever they want me to do or wherever they see me fitting best is what I'm going to do and do it with a positive attitude," he said. “I like to think of myself as a natural competitor. I’m going to do whatever it takes to be on that team.”