With the 2015 NHL Draft approaching fast, the chatter surrounding who will have their name called after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel is beginning to build momentum. Of all of the names that swirl around the top 10, no player has received more tar and feathers than Kingston Frontenacs power forward, Lawson Crouse. He has quickly become the most notorious name of the 2015 Draft, a target for lynch mobs of analysts, scouts and armchair coaches.
Why does everyone have such a hate on for Crouse? The most common criticism is that he doesn’t have enough offensive upside to be a top 5 or even top 10 pick. With offensive dynamos like McDavid, Eichel, and 100-plus point producers Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome, Crouse and his measly 51 points seems but a hideous eyesore at the top of the heap.
Another key ingredient to the witch’s brew is the fact that Crouse is often lauded for his strength and size—commodities that have taken a beating as the game continues to drift away from the age of cementhead hockey. Words used to describe his game, such as “grit” and “toughness”, are scoffed at as overrated intangibles that have clouded scouts’ judgement for years, leading teams to pick players like Alex Stojanov and Alex Svitov with top 10 picks.
People are tired of hearing about the vast potential of players of Crouse’s ilk only to be disappointed when they don’t live up to expectations. Size and strength used to be prioritized over speed and skill when selecting in the first round. It has now become a major risk to teams picking high. Nobody wants to pick the next Tyler Biggs or Hugh Jessiman.
Critics of Crouse are quick to reference the shift in the game towards speed and skill, something a player like Mitch Marner has in spades. To them, picking Crouse ahead of Marner is asinine. How could a team be so blind as to pass up 126 points? With this in mind, it is also important to note that NHL busts don’t always come in large packages. For every Biggs or Jessiman, there are plenty of Zach Hamills, Gilbert Brules, Alex Bourrets and Nikita Filatovs. The fact is drafting NHL eligible prospects isn’t an exact science. It’s an educated projection, at best.
Whether you love or hate Lawson Crouse, here are a few things you should keep in mind heading into the 2015 NHL Draft and beyond:
Power Forwards Take More Time to Develop
Becoming a successful power forward in the NHL requires a lot of elements to be in place. To be successful, you need to be able to learn how to use your body to your advantage and this takes longer to master, especially considering that 18-year-old kids are still growing. Power forwards like Brendan Shannahan, Ryan Getzlaf, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Cam Neely weren’t dominant NHL players from day 1. It took a few seasons for these guys to hit their stride. The problem is, when we think of the term “Power Forward” we almost immediately think of Eric Lindros, who was such a dominant combination of elite skill and brute strength. Lindros was the Wayne Gretzky of power forwards.
Crouse’s junior team, the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, were one of four teams in the league that failed to crack the 200 mark for goals for. Crouse paced the offensively challenged Frontenacs in both goals (29) and points (51), leading a lineup that didn’t leave much to be desired. The Frontenacs were led by first-year head coach, Paul McFarland, whose defense-first system often resulted in low-scoring, yawn-inducing games. The system was deployed seemingly more out of necessity than preference, as evidenced by a more aggressive, attacking style that the Fronts adopted when Sam Bennett joined the club for a late season push following his shoulder rehab.
During the first three quarters of the season, Crouse’s offensive impact was severely restricted by the system. A player like Crouse is at his best when he’s able to be aggressive on the forecheck, creating turnovers down low and working off of the cycle. For the better part of the season, he was often forced to sit back and try to force turnovers in the neutral zone and create offense through transition. With better linemates and a more aggressive system (which most NHL teams employ these days) Crouse should flourish.
If Ryan Getlaf and Jordan Staal had a Love Child…
This isn’t the first time people have been hot and cold on a player. In 2011, it was Sean Couturier, who at one point was considered to be the no-brainer to go first overall in the 2011 NHL Draft. Instead of going first, he slipped down to eighth overall and has still yet to find his stride offensively. In 2003, some scouts marvelled over Corey Perry’s hands and creativity, while others gagged over his skating ability. Perry dropped to 28th overall and has gone on to on to become one of the most dominant offensive threats in the game, collecting a Hart Trophy and a Rocket Richard Trophy along the way.
The difference with players like Couturier and Perry is that both of them were established offensive threats in junior prior to being drafted. Crouse doesn’t have the benefit of sparkling offensive numbers coming into this year’s draft. That being said, he isn’t the first highly ranked player who didn’t take the amateur ranks by storm, offensively speaking. Both Jordan Staal (2nd overall in 2006) and Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall in 2003) had ho-hum numbers, similar to Crouse, in their draft years.
Here are the numbers and scouting reports for the three players in their respective draft years:
Staal’s Draft Year:
Central Scouting Report:
Is a perimeter forward who is an excellent skater with a wide base style that makes him solid on his skates. He has a long fluid stride with very good agility and speed, uses his tremendous size and long reach to protect the puck very well. He possesses a powerful shot both slap and wrist that he gets off quickly and accurately. He sees the ice very well and is able to move the puck through traffic with hard or soft passes as the situation calls for both on the forehand and backhand. At times during throughout the season he was used on the point of the power-play and is also an excellent penalty killer. He uses his long reach very well to block the passing lanes and gives a solid two-way effort. He is a quiet type of competitor who uses very good anticipation and hockey sense rather than physical strength to be effective defensively. He’s not a punishing type of player but does get involved in traffic and is able to separate opponents from the puck.
Getzlaf’s Draft Year:
One Scout Said…
“Moved up one spot and finished the season as NHL Central Scouting’s fifth-ranked North American skater. Versatile player who likes to use his size to create scoring chances. While he’s hard to knock off his skates, he has trouble generating speed, a fact that concerns some scouts. He can play all three forward positions and manned the point on the power play in juniors. He also was used extensively on the penalty-killing unit and was among the Western Hockey League leaders with six shorthanded goals.”
Crouse’s Draft Year:
Craig Button (TSN Director of Scouting):
Lawson is a ‘big’ man who can impose himself on opponents and make it extremely difficult for them. He is a strong skater with a good burst of speed and if he has the slightest step on a defender, it is an almost impossible task to regain position vs. him. Good puck skills and is a smart player with and without the puck. Developing into the type of player that can be a force at the NHL level.
While most of the early comparisons for Crouse have been to Milan Lucic and Cam Neely, I feel he’s more of a hybrid of Staal and Getzlaf. He has a long, powerful stride and advanced defensive awareness a la Staal and displays the quick release and aggressive bite of Getzlaf.
At the end of the day, Crouse will likely never be more than a well-rounded, 70 point per season power forward. His ceiling could be Ryan Getzlaf and his floor could be Alex Stojanov, just like Mitch Marner could be Patrick Kane or Alex Bourret. That’s the risk of selecting players who are 17 and 18 years old. Barring any catastrophic implosion, Lawson Crouse should enjoy a productive NHL career and make all his naysayers eat their words.