Lawson Crouse brings just about everything you could want in a hockey player. At just 17 years old, he already stands at 6’4″, 212 lbs. By the time he’s an NHL regular in a few years, he’ll be even bigger. As you can guess from his size, Crouse plays a power forward type game.
At left wing, Crouse is a monster along the boards and on the forecheck. He uses his size very effectively to protect the puck, wins puck battles with frequency, and is already a polished two-way player. Considering his size, he is a strong skater. All of these attributes are already NHL-level for Crouse.
“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.”
The “perceived” knock against Crouse among some hockey fans is his offensive upside. Crouse is ranked 4th in ISS’s latest rankings, 5th among NA Skaters in CSS’s Final Rankings, and 11th in Craig Button’s latest rankings. They think that if their team is picking Crouse that high, they want a more proven offensive track record.
— Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood) May 25, 2015
In the OHL this season, Crouse put up 29 goals and 22 assists for 51 points in 56 games. Nearly a point-per-game, but according to some, not worthy of being selected in the top 10 of the draft. In addition, Crouse made the 2015 Canadian WJC team as a 17 year old. He put up 3 points in 7 games, exclusively in a bottom six role, and did not look out of place at all.
And yet, despite his apparently average numbers, scouting services and people who travel to watch Crouse live have him ranked as an elite prospect. Why? Because they actually watch him play live, and don’t just look at the numbers.
I would wager a good amount of money that Crouse’s biggest detractors have not watched a single game of his outside of the World Juniors, and are looking solely at his numbers at face value, with no context added. Failing to dig deeper into his season leads to hasty, incorrect conclusions about his NHL future.
The Real Lawson Crouse
I have watched Lawson Crouse play live via stream in the OHL multiple times. All of the intangibles are there, and his offensive abilities go further than what the numbers indicate. Crouse is a smart player that knows where to be on the ice to make an impact. He won’t dazzle you with stickhandling, but puts himself in a position to succeed.
One way to better understand Crouse’s numbers is to see how they stack up against the draft-eligible seasons of the NHL’s best power forwards. Crouse is expected to be one when he reaches the NHL, so his numbers should be in their ballpark.
Among CHL players, Crouse lands 4th out of six. Don’t take Backes or Benn’s numbers seriously in this comparison as their competition was a significant step down from the others. He’s not the best, but his numbers fit right in with the best power forwards in the NHL. Not bad company at all.
Note the final column that shows how good his team’s offense overall was, and you’ll see Crouse had by far the worst supporting cast of everyone in the comparison. Only eight teams in WHL, OHL, and QMJHL scored fewer goals than the Frontenacs this year. Crouse simply had very little to work with offensively for most of the year.
Much of this was because Sam Bennett, the 2014 4th overall pick and Kingston’s best player, missed all but eleven games of the season due to shoulder surgery. When Bennett returned to the lineup at the end of the season, Crouse’s numbers predictably got better (15 points in 11 games).
Adding Bennett for a full season probably improves Kingston’s offense to about league average, which is where most of the above power forwards land. 10th in the OHL in goals was 237 this year, and Kingston had 196. An extra 41 goals sounds like a lot for just one player to add, but we’ll run with it.
If we take Crouse’s PPG from when Bennett was in the lineup, and apply it to an entire season’s worth of games, we get a very different picture:
Give Crouse a decent set of linemates, and suddenly his draft season looks better than what the best power forwards in the NHL did. Scouts and experts realize this, but many fans do not. If Lawson Crouse is available at #7 when Ron Hextall comes up to the podium, I hope Crouse is his pick.