Is it possible for 20-year-old Dawson Mercer to win the Calder Trophy? At this juncture, of course it is. Anything can happen as we pass the quarter mark of the season. Entering this season most would have bet money for Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens to take home the award, but there are other names, including Mercer, who have taken center stage. Over the past 22 games, the Newfoundland native has become one of the most important forwards for the New Jersey Devils.
Since the beginning of the season, Mercer has been a top-five player for the Devils and a top rookie in the league. He is self-aware when he is on the ice, and had earned the trust of the coaching staff. Even when he makes a mistake, he always seems to make up for it the next shift. The forward makes the players around him better, and stepped up when the team needed it the most.
Mercer Shined in Hughes’ Absence
When the Devils announced Hughes would be out for an extended time, the first thought on everyone’s mind was who would replace him. It did not take long to realize it would be the rookie who would step up. His current faceoff percentage is 34.36, but it is what he does away from the faceoff dots, that has made an impact with the team.
Mercer has scored in half of the games he has appeared in this season, and is hard to ignore when he is on the ice — and it is not because of his hair. He is responsible with the puck in both the offensive and defensive zone. Over time the coaching staff has given him opportunities on the power play and penalty kill.
“I try and give a young player as much as he can handle and he’s been able to handle almost whatever I’ve thrown at him so far,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “He takes what you usually give him, and the physical side of the game hasn’t bothered him yet, so with the absence of a couple key players up front, we need him to play a fairly large role.”
Mercer Makes His Teammates Better
If there has been one consistent positive from the Devils over the past few weeks it has been the trio of Andreas Johnsson, Dawson Mercer and Jesper Bratt. The line found success as a group as well as individually. Bratt leads all Devils with 19 points, and has six points in his last five games. Johnsson is having a comeback year with seven points in his last five outings. When asked about Johnsson’s impressive turnaround this season, head coach Lindy Ruff gave credit to Mercer.
“I think Mercer has been a real good fit for [Johnsson],” said coach Ruff. “That line has a little bit of everything… Bratt’s speed, Dawson’s creativity and Andreas feels good about his game. His desperation has been great because I think he really likes who he’s playing with.”
During Friday night’s game Ruff shuffled the lines around, putting Hughes on a line with Mercer on his wing. Hughes scored his first goal since returning from injury on a rebound. Before he scored his goal, it was the 6-foot rookie who was causing chaos in front of Winnipeg Jets’ goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Mercer did not earn an assist on the goal, but his net-front presence was certainly a factor in keeping Nikolaj Ehlers busy, allowing Hughes to skate in.
Thoughts from The Hockey Writers’ Devils Crew
I asked my colleagues at The Hockey Writers if they thought Mercer had a chance at winning the Calder Trophy at the conclusion of the 2021-22 campaign.
Alex Chauvancy: Mercer is clearly in the top 3 for the Calder at the moment. But unless Lucas Raymond completely falls off a cliff, I think it’ll be hard for Mercer to catch him at the rate Raymond is going.
Vincent Velotta: I do believe Mercer’s top 3-5 right now, but I’m thinking his play time and production may go down now that Hughes has returned. Its not a certainty, of course, but definitely something to look out for. Other than that, he has clearly shown he belongs and is often the most fun player to watch on the team.
Erica Rosenbaum: I think he will be a nominee for the Calder along with Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. In terms of winning, he’ll have to continue to be very consistent on the scoresheet. In the end, I think it will be Mercer against Raymond to win the Calder. He hasn’t slowed down since the beginning of the season, and I think he will have a very high chance of being nominated and potentially winning.
I agree with my colleagues that Mercer will be in the Calder Trophy conversation until the very end along with Lucas Raymond, Trevor Zegras and Moritz Seider. All of these rookies have been instrumental in helping non-playoff teams remain competitive, and it has been fun for fans to watch. Mercer does everything right on both ends of the ice, and makes the players around him better. The confident 20-year-old has quietly silenced any doubter who did not think he was ready for the NHL, while simultaneously becoming a fan favorite in New Jersey.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and covers both the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly Youtube show produced by THW. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.