2020 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Dawson Mercer

Could the Dallas Stars fill their most pressing prospect need and draft the best player available in the same pick?

Name: Dawson Mercer

Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

Position: Center / Wing

Stats: 42 games played, 24 goals, 36 assists, 60 points, 25 PIMs, +6 plus/minus rating

NHL Central Scouting ranking: 10th (North American Skaters)

Comparable NHL player: Filip Forsberg / Vincent Trocheck

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: if Dawson Mercer is still available whenever the Dallas Stars end up picking in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, they should probably sprint — not walk — to the podium.

(Or, if the draft is held virtually this year, connect the call as quickly as possible. You get what I’m trying to say here)

Even though the Stars have done a good job over the past few years making their prospect pool deeper and more balanced, there has been a persisting shortage of “dynamic” forwards: highly-skilled guys who can single-handedly break open a shift and tilt a close game in the team’s favor.

Which is precisely where Mercer comes in. Though by no means a perfect player, outside of the top 10 or so picks in this year’s class Mercer is one of the few prospects with game-breaking offensive potential.

The Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward is an impressively versatile player who is strong in a number of different areas, while also not having much notable in the way of weaknesses. However, the single best aspect of his game is his stickhandling, which is something special. He is quick, confident and controlled with his stick work, able to deke and dance opposing players, even in tight traffic. He can be practically surgical in his ability to corral bouncing pucks or pick them out of scrums and board battles.

Once he has the puck on his stick in a dangerous scoring area, he’s a dual threat as both a shooter and a playmaker. He can snipe the top corners of the net from the faceoff circles, as well as feed crispy no-look passes to his teammates. And when you combine those two attributes with his excellent puck skills it should come as no surprise that he’s especially lethal on the powerplay — through just 42 games in 2019-20, he picked up a whopping 21 points with the man-advantage.

Speaking of dangerous scoring areas, Mercer rates very highly when it comes to creating chances. His anticipation is excellent, allowing him to read the play and accurately spot opportunities to pick off enemy passes or pressure opponents into creating turnovers before transitioning the puck in the other direction, whether from the neutral zone or in his own end. Not many prospects, in any league, generated as many breakaways this season as he did. He’s also a fairly tenacious forechecker, going deep into the offensive zone with intention and attacking the puck carrier with his stick until he can obtain possession.

This anticipation also allows him to be a threat to generate offense while on the penalty kill — his five shorthanded points in 2019-20 were good for second in the QMJHL. Overall, Mercer is a good defensive player, albeit not a high-end one. He lacks upper-body strength, his reach is average and he’s not quite as regularly tenacious or hard-working in the defensive zone as he is in the offensive one.

In terms of his overall skating ability, it’s another area where he’s above average, though not elite. His agility, edges, acceleration, stride mechanics and top gear are all fairly good, but he always needs to combine his feet with his sense and puck skill to create separation and maintain possession.

While Mercer doesn’t have any major red flags about his game, there are still a few nits worth picking.

He’ll certainly need to refine his playing style to suit the higher levels of hockey, as he currently can hang on to pucks for too long and try to do a little too much at times — it’s much harder to dipsy-doodle through defenses in the NHL than the QMJHL, especially when a player lacks elite quickness or sufficient strength. He’ll need to make better decisions with the puck on a consistent basis, as he can be prone to coughing it up and throwing it away more than he should be.

And for all the offensive tools he owns, his production is a little curious. He was just under a point-per-game last season (his second full year in the QMJHL, as a 2001-birthday), and then only slightly above that after a mid-season trade to Chicoutimi this year. Although, it should be mentioned that last season’s Drummonville team and this year’s post-trade-deadline Sagueneens roster were both pretty deep and experienced on offense, limiting the minutes any individual forward received.

There’s also some question about whether Mercer will be a center or a winger when his development is all said and done. He’s bounced back and forth between the two over the past two years, and while he seems to have enough tools to play down the middle permanently, he’s an older player for this draft class and that still hasn’t quite been shown definitively.

Now, the odds that Mercer will actually be available whenever Dallas picks is pretty slim. He is ranked consistently in the 12-16 range on independent draft boards, and if draft spots were decided solely on point totals the Stars would be picking 22nd. And despite the uncertainty about whether Mercer can become a center long-term, there’s a shortage of pivots at the top of this draft, so teams could put a priority on scooping him up just because it’s such a valuable position. But pretty much everything about the draft is up in the air right now, and stranger things than the lucky bounce of a lottery ball have happened.

So maybe don’t get your hopes up, Stars fans — but if you dare to dream about nabbing a player who can fill the organization’s biggest need while also possibly being the best player available, or just want to kill some pandemic time with some entertaining highlight packages, Mercer is your guy.