Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference–Robert Frost
Lawson Crouse is highly ranked by many individuals in the hockey scouting profession. In the most recent Central Scouting service rankings released this week Crouse is ranked 4th overall while ISS Hockey has Crouse ranked as 3rd, higher than Noah Hanifin. From an analytics perspective this is a very bad bet, the odds of NHL success are stacked against Crouse and there are better picks that should be considered over Crouse in the early stages of the draft. Drafting Crouse with such an early pick will come with a high opportunity cost.
Lawson Crouse is 17 years old and in his second year in the OHL. In his current draft eligible season he scored 23 points in 30 games which translates to just over 0.75 points/game. He is a man amongst children currently listed as 6’4″ (or 6’3″ depending on your source) and 211 lbs. Its his size attributes that scouts see and overvalue while they undervalue his relative lack of hockey production versus the peers in his draft class.
From a holistic perspective, the NHL is the best league in the world which comprises of the best players in the world. To be amongst the best, in your developing years, you cannot be swimming along you have to be elite relative to your peers. Lawson Crouse is not the best amongst all draft-eligible prospects, let alone his peers in the OHL, to be worthy of such a high ranking.
In the Ontario Hockey League Crouse’s points/game production ranks him 12th amongst all 17 year-olds. When adjusting for his younger age Crouse still cannot crack the OHL Top-10 and is even beat out by defencemen Rasmus Andersson and Mitchell Vande Sompel.
Production is important in junior hockey as it is indicative of future NHL success. We know that production is a better predictor than the CSS rankings. The higher scoring you produce the more likely you are to play in the NHL. Size does help but so does is being a big player who scores a lot. Comparing Crouse to his past cohorts of CHLers, who are 6’2″ or larger and produce in the 0.5-1.0 points/game range, suggest Crouse has a 10% chance of success to be a regular NHLer.
Director of NHL Central Scouting, Dan Marr on @OilersNow
1. Implies Crouse's TOI and usage is limited in Kingston, impacts scoring
— Romulus' Apotheosis (@RomulusNotNuma) January 21, 2015
2. Suggests there have been many cases of low-scoring junior players that emerge as impact players in NHL when surrounded by better players.
— Romulus' Apotheosis (@RomulusNotNuma) January 21, 2015
The above two tweets are of opinions on Crouse from the head scout of the NHL’s Central Scouting service.
On the first of the two statements, this makes sense. If a player such as Lawson Crouse is not being played often his production is going to decrease and his basic numbers are not going to look good compared to his peers. However, what Marr said is not true.
We know that Crouse is gifted the highest ice time of all Kingston Frontenac forwards. In terms of his usage Crouse has a Quality of Competition rating of 0.70 (expressed as a z-score) and a Quality of Teammates factor of 2.12 (also a z-score). A player with premium ice time, playing alongside strong teammates and against relatively weak competition, for someone in Crouse’s position, should be producing at a higher rate than he currently is if Crouse is likely to see NHL success.
The second statement does not bode well as an argument for Crouse. Every player, including terrible players, look much better when they are surrounded by better players. You see this in the NHL routinely, but that alone does not make the player better or NHL worthy.
Returning to the factor that makes Crouse attractive to scouts is his size. Relative to his peers it is easy to stand out when he can physically dominate them, but that advantage does not likely continue when he is playing in a senior league. At that point he is limited in his toolset to make himself a viable NHLer.
A local Ottawa radio announcer on TSN1200 Todd White was very excited to see Crouse finish near the top of the CHL BMO Top Prospect Combine. Because of his current physical advantage it would be disappointing for Crouse to finish anywhere but the top. It was then contradictory to hear Todd White spend the next few minutes ranting on the uselessness of physical fitness testing in hockey.
@PaulBerthelot best summarized the position on scouting and Lawson Crouse:
What got me thinking is that people have said when they watch Crouse he looks amazing, which is something I understand. When I have watched Crouse he has looked pretty good by my eye test.
But you have to ask yourself what did he do to look good. Well my notes have him as a great skater, big body, physical, lots of hits, big time PK guy, all good things no doubt about it. Think about those plays though what do they all have in common? There are three things: first they happen every game, second they don’t require the puck in anyway, and third they tend to be memorable plays.
When a scout goes to a game he is always going to see Crouse’s large frame, his good skating, he’s always going to play physical and likely be killing penalties. Those attributes are never going to change. Crouse isn’t going to randomly shrink for a game, and he is not going to forget how to skate. He may play a less physical game at times but still likely throws some hits. He may not kill penalties in every game but more often than not he’s going to be out there.
He doesn’t need the puck on his stick to show off those attributes. When scouts attend a game they’re more watching individual players than the game itself. So it would be very easy to notice all of Crouse’s abilities early and often in the game. This is where confirmation bias kicks in. You go into a game knowing Crouse is highly thought of, and see him early in the game show off all his tools. All Crouse has to do at this point is make a big play; whether that be a big hit, a fight or a blocked shot and that person Is going to walk away thinking Crouse had a monster game.
This article does not suggest Crouse has no chance of succeed in the NHL. Only 8% of CHL forwards have played in 200 NHL games or more. Crouse and his cohorts have a success rate of 10% which is higher than the average and Crouse is likely to be a good pick up but not at 3rd or 4th position in the draft. If you have those picks and you are attracted to his size you are going to be paying a large opportunity cost. Alternative players such as Dylan Strome and Yevgeni Svechnikov are much better selections at these positions: they are large players who produce at an elite rate and they yield a much higher rate of success.
Interestingly enough, if you compare Connor McDavid and Lawson Crouse, and their gaps between true talent level and scouting expectations, Lawson Crouse is going to have the harder time living up to what others expect of him.
I am a Van Fan in Bytown. Living in Ottawa for work, I research Sports Analytics and Machine Learning and have worked with teams at various levels. I play hockey as well as a timbit but I compete in rowing with hopes of 2016 Olympic Gold.