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NHL draft 2015: Lawson Crouse rounds out the top 10 in the community board

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The big winger has taken some knocks for his meager production in the OHL this past year, but his impressive size/speed combination and excellent defense make him quite the intriguing prospect despite that.

Not only would Lawson Crouse be the team's best left-wing prospect, he'd instantly become one of its best beat writers, too!
Not only would Lawson Crouse be the team's best left-wing prospect, he'd instantly become one of its best beat writers, too!
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

We round out the top 10 on our community big board with maybe our first true left-side winger to show up here, and that's Lawson Crouse of the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. Crouse picked up 31 percent of the vote, winning a close contest over the draft's top USHL prospect, Kyle Connor (27 percent), and another big OHL forward, Pavel Zacha (21 percent).

We've talked a little bit about Crouse before on this site, and in particular JpH profiled him about two weeks ago. What sticks out about him most is immediately noticeable: Crouse stands above most of the other guys on the ice, at 6'4" and 215 pounds, and he complements that size by being a strong skater who moves pretty quickly in general, let alone for a guy of his larger stature.

In a league where fast skating is emphasized more and more each day, a guy who can bring a skating advantage and a size advantage over most of the guys he faces is always going to be in demand. Which, when coupled with his impressive defensive ability and good performance as a double-underage player on Canada's World Juniors gold-winning team last winter, is how you see Crouse cracking the top-5 on some prospect rankings, breaking into the draft's supposed top tier of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, and Noah Hanifin.

And yet, there's the one big hangup with Crouse: his scoring. More specifically, the lack of it. Crouse failed to top a point per game this past year in the OHL scoring 51 points (29 goals, 22 assists) in 56. While by no means does that make him a prospect who's guaranteed to fail or anything even close to that, it's well below the levels that elite forward prospects typically are at in their draft years. And it has raised questions regarding whether or not Crouse should be a top pick in a draft with as much talent as this one.

As such, like JpH mentioned in his profile, Crouse has become quite possibly the most polarizing prospect in the draft, with some believing he's worthy of a top-5 pick and others saying they wouldn't take him until they're well clear of the lottery. I tend to sit in the middle of those two extremes. Having him ahead of the likes of Marner or Strome, who just destroyed the same league Crouse was in all season long, seems like a reach. But the tools are all there for him to at least be a contributing, high-floor player. So I think No. 10 seems about right, give or take a spot or two.

With that said, here are just a few quick thoughts I have on Crouse and the whole debate around him, both positive and negative:

  • He's still young. Even beyond the fact that bigger players can tend to take some time to truly develop and reach their ceilings, Crouse is pretty young by prospect standards. He doesn't even turn 18 until next week, making him one of the youngest prospects in this entire draft. Other wingers towards the top of the draft board like Mikko Rantanen and Timo Meier, both of whom have October 1996 birthdays, should be expected to be a little farther along in their development than Crouse is. Just something to keep in mind when comparing him to his peers -- other guys in their "draft years" are farther along in their development than Crouse is. Next year is really, really important for him.
  • He didn't play on a very good team and that hurt him, but it doesn't entirely explain the low production. A justification I frequently see for Crouse's sub-par production this year is that the OHL team he played on, the Kingston Frontenacs, was bad, and that he had to more or less carry the load for them. It's true that it wasn't a very good team, especially compared to those of some of his draft peers. And the fact that (as JpH mentioned in his piece) he scored a higher percentage of his team's goals than any non-McDavid OHL draft prospect counts for something. With that said, I have a hard time writing all of his relative scoring woes off as the product of a bad team. For one, Kingston finished 12th in points in a 20-team league and won 32 out of 68 games. Below average, for sure, but not ridiculously terrible or anything like that. Heck, Crouse wasn't even his team's top scorer on a per-game basis, behind 2014 7th-round pick Spencer Watson (albeit Watson missed significant time with a broken ankle). All that aside, though, if you're ever projecting a junior-level player to score like a top-6 forward in the NHL (the way you presumably would if you're picking a forward in the lottery), you're hoping to see him dominate offensively regardless of the situation around him. That he couldn't do that does at least raise a question or two.
  • Beyond his mediocre scoring numbers, he's still got a lot going for him elsewhere. Crouse is considered by most to be a pretty well-rounded prospect. He can use his size, speed, and smarts to be a great defensive player in all modes -- at even strength and on the penalty kill. ESPN's Corey Pronman ranked him No. 6 among all players in the draft in "hockey IQ", saying that he is "a very aware two-way player who makes a lot of good decisions and reads", and also said that Crouse has the outright best "physical game" of anyone in the draft, which helps in both the offensive and defensive zone even when not directly creating chances for himself. There's good reason to believe that he'll at least be a decent player at the NHL level, even if his scoring doesn't come around quite the way some are eventually expecting it to.

There's a lot to like about Crouse, and to simply classify him as a big brute who succeeds by throwing the body around isn't fair. I think it's hard to see him totally busting at the NHL level -- his excellent defensive ability and skating suggest that at worst he'll be a competent NHL forward.

But I do believe that expecting him to be a high-scoring NHL power forward who has a ton of offensive upside does involve some level of optimistic projection, and is a bit of a gamble on Crouse's tools and athleticism (something which, by itself, so easily get conflated with "upside", even though that's really just a small part of it). Doesn't mean he can't do it, but it's tough to feel really confident that he will. And that's not entirely because of Crouse himself.

Everyone looks for "the next Milan Lucic" every year, trying to find that big power forward who can dominate that area around the net and score a ton of goals. But there are so, so few guys like that in the NHL, and teams strike out more often than not trying to find them. Adam Gretz over at CBS wrote about the dearth of power forwards in the league midway through last season, summing it up with the statement that it's "awfully difficult to find players who are the perfect combination of big, physical and productive."

So the question, really, is this: is the league slowly moving past guys who become elite players by playing a pure physical, power forward style? Or are there just not enough guys who have the ability to play that style in today's game? I don't know. But whoever drafts Lawson Crouse is doing so with the expectation that it's the latter, and that he's one of the guys who has that ability that we just don't see much any more.

And yes, that team could certainly be the Flyers. Look at their last two drafts -- Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim are guys who have impressive physical tools and skating but didn't have impressive point totals, and the team wasn't afraid to snatch them up. Look at the teams Ron Hextall oversaw in LA -- they managed to basically never give the puck up, in no small part by being faster and stronger and smarter than the guys they were playing. He could easily see Crouse as a guy who can help bring that to life here. And yes, the Flyers are probably looking to bolster their organizational depth on the left wing, which Crouse would address.

So while I don't believe he's their first choice, I wouldn't rule it out. If they like what they see, they'll have him on their short list. In any case, he's one of the most intriguing prospects in this entire class.

Anywho, the poll list is shortening, so we'll add a few more names today.

Nick Merkley, RW, Kelowna (WHL) - 20 G, 70 A in 72 GP

Most elite prospects generally succeed in one of two main areas: speed and size. If you don't excel in either area you usually drop, and while Merkley isn't exactly handicapped in both categories, he doesn't particularly excel in either. ... Still, if you get too caught up into these criticisms you may totally miss just how good of a player Merkley truly is. Behind only Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Mathew Barzal, Merkley is the next best playmaker in the draft, hands down. His puck control is fantastic, and he's able to move the rubber biscuit around with both deft touches as well as whipping it across the ice. His offensive vision and creativity are elite, allowing him to read plays, find openings and dissect opposing defenses. And while he may be short he's still quite stocky, allowing him to play with an excellent level of intensity, not shying away from throwing big hits when he sees the right opportunity.

-- via Derek Neumeier at Defending Big D

Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL) - 5 G, 38 A in 46 GP

[It] was impressive just how much of a presence he was on defence. Roy was the one pointing out teammates' defensive responsibilities, and seeing things that other players couldn't. ... Roy is seen as an excellent two-way player, always calm and collected in all three zones with the ability to control the play. ... He's used in all situations, and is considered a deadly force on the powerplay with his powerful and accurate slap shot. Roy's offensive prowess is also critically acclaimed, particularly with regards to breakouts and zone entries. ... Roy is also valued for his leadership and character. He was an alternate captain for both Sherbrooke and Team Canada U18s this year, and was the captain for the Quebec U17s. Scouts like the fact that he is unafraid of playing physical and that he plays smart while doing so. ... Like his points production, we can only speculate if Roy only looks like a good defender in a zero defence league, or if he is a good defender.

-- via ctibs at Matchsticks and Gasoline

Colin White, C, US National Team Development Program - 23 G, 31 A in 54 GP

White is a prospect who is touted for both his offensive and his defensive abilities, making him a ideal candidate to be a strong two-way forward in the league. ... He is billed as a very strong skater with great quickness and good speed. He's not the type of player that has one particular skill that everyone raves about, but the general consensus seems to be that he does pretty much everything well at both ends of the ice. His hockey sense is also held in high regard, with many listing his ability to see plays develop as one of his best qualities. He finished 6th on the USNTDP this season with 54 points in 54 games, but the fact that he missed time and his complete game at both ends has him as the consensus top choice from the development team this year.

-- via Mike Stromberg at In Lou We Trust

Oliver Kylington, D, Färjestad (SHL) - 2 G, 3 A in 18 GP

His skating abilities are elite, strong first stride, and very smooth transition-wise. ... he's one of those defensemen who can get on his horse and carry the puck through the neutral zone like he's hell-on-wheels. ... His passing abilities are crisp, he makes a quick and efficient first pass out of his zone, which is something the Red Wings (and most NHL organizations) really long for in a young player at any level. I'd like to see a bit more consistency from him offensively, as if he's going to be that sort of player, he will need to be a special teams weapon. I peg him as a potential top-four defenseman at the NHL level one day.

-- via Kyle M at Winging It In Motown

* * *

The 2015 BSH Community NHL Draft Board

  1. Connor McDavid, C, Erie (OHL)
  2. Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (NCAA)
  3. Dylan Strome, C, Erie (OHL) (45% of the vote)
  4. Mitch Marner, C/RW, London (OHL) (54%)
  5. Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (NCAA) (77%)
  6. Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon (WHL) (45%)
  7. Mathew Barzal, C, Seattle (WHL) (39%)
  8. Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS (Liiga) (41%)
  9. Zach Werenski, D, Michigan (NCAA) (35%)
  10. Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston (OHL) (31%)
  11. ???

* * *

As always, please use your vote below to answer the following question: If all of the players listed were available when the Flyers were on the clock, who would you want them to pick?