When it comes to the upcoming 2015 NHL Entry Draft, few draft-eligible prospects are as intriguing, and as hotly debated, as Lawson Crouse.
Crouse, who plays left wing for the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League, has been firmly on the radar of scouts all season long. Skilled, versatile, and possessing an impressive frame at roughly 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he's been consistently listed in the Top 10 of various draft rankings, and in some instances even as high as Top 5. His high draft stock was undoubtedly bolstered by making Team Canada at this year's World Junior Championships, a very impressive and rare feat for a 17-year-old Canadian.
Despite these rankings, however, many are quick to express hesitancy towards Crouse because of his raw production numbers this season. With only 29 goals and 51 points in 56 games, his scoring rate is well below average compared to other high 1st round picks that have recently been drafted out of the Canadian major junior leagues.
That being said, it's still hard to not be drawn to Crouse when you read the routinely glowing praise that comes from those that watch him closely. Gaudy offensive stats or not, scouts are adamant that there is a lot to like about him, more than enough to warrant a high draft selection.
For a quick taste, read this scouting report on Crouse from the website Hockey's Future:
...is a pure sniper with both good shooting abilities and dekes in close. He showed consistent and rapid improvement over the course of the season. He has an uncanny knack for finding loose pucks, finding the space to make himself available for a pass and being in the right spot to bury rebounds. His skating is average at best....doesn’t use his size particularly well and he’s not an overly physical force. He is extremely effective when he has the time to set up and shoot or on odd-man rushes.
Not bad at all, right? That certainly paints a very appealing picture of what kind of game Crouse brings to the table.
...except that's not actually Crouse that Hockey's Future is talking about there. I just lied. That's actually their 2007 scouting report on current Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn.
With a player that generates so much debate, the natural course of action is to try to find current NHLers with which to compare him to. There's been no shortage of these so far for Crouse, ranging anywhere from Jack Skille to Troy Brouwer to Rick Nash. Crouse himself admits that he models his game after Nash, with a little bit of Milan Lucic thrown in as well.
Personally, though, the more I watch and read about Crouse, the more he keeps reminding me of Benn, the Stars' 25 year-old marquee power forward.
Check out this scouting report on Crouse (for real this time, I promise) from Future Considerations:
A big-bodied forward who gives opposing defenses headaches with his effort on the forecheck…tough to contain with his huge frame and strength…impossible to separate from the puck and consistently is successful winning pucks and generating scoring chances through his hard work…moves the puck well with good vision and passing skill…a strong net-front presence… has decent speed for his size, though he could improve his quickness…plays hard on defense; forces plays and takes away angles…uses his size to play physical, including laying some devastating hits…is a moose along the wall down low…tremendous potential going forward
Boy, that certainly sounds a lot like Benn, doesn't it?
Another scout's take, this time from Dobber Sports, that echoes shades of Benn:
Don’t get wrapped up by his mediocre offensive production because you need to watch this kid to really appreciate what he brings to the game. Lawson Crouse is the type of player that every coach wants on his team because you can throw him out in every situation and know he’s going to make an impact. One of the smartest two-way forwards in the draft, Crouse has the size and strength that makes him a low-risk selection and he can play up and down in the lineup. He’s shown impressive gains in his offensive game and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a top-six winger at the next level. Every time he hits the ice, he does something – whether it’s dominating the cycle game or stripping an attacking player of possession – that makes you go, "wow, he’s going to be good"
The moving pictures help solidify the comparisons between the two:
The two also share relatable experiences on international ice. Crouse went from being a top line player in Kingston to being a checking forward and penalty killer for a deep Canada team at the World Juniors, a role that he was very successful in as the Canadians won gold. That performance closely resembles Benn's story from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, going from a first line player in Dallas to a key checker and penalty killer for Canada, which also helped lead to a gold medal.
Now, it's certainly a lofty task to compare a player like Crouse to someone of Benn's stature. There's no real guarantee that Crouse will likewise develop into the rare two-way, 70-point power-forward that Benn currently is. And when you have a league where players like Ben Eager, Boyd Gordon and Daniel Paille were all 1st round selections, it's definitely understandable to worry about whether or not Crouse's issues scoring at an impressive rate in junior will continue in the NHL (though, in Crouse's defense, he had very little offensive support in Kingston for most of this season).
Still, it's not hard at all to see what the two players have in common. If the scouts' assurances turn out to be valid, and Crouse really does have the potential to become an NHLer like Benn, that's going to make him a very interesting player to watch for come draft day.