With the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the hometown Florida Panthers took to the stage at BB&T Center and selected Lawson Crouse from the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs.
So, South Florida, what are you getting in this young man? Last year was easy because everyone knew how good Aaron Ekblad was and what he could bring to the Panthers’ blue line. Crouse may not have had the same hype as Ekblad, but the Panthers knew they wanted the 6’3″, 212 pound left wing. The only question was if he would remain available at pick number 11 (some sites even had him ranked as high as third).
While most of this year’s hype has rightfully been centered around Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the draft has a wealth of talent beyond the two budding superstars. Crouse is well known in the larger hockey world for being a strong power forward who is eminently coachable. We here at THW have put together his profile (complete with links to video highlights) so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. Read it now. Go ahead — I’ll wait.
The phrase “every coach’s dream” is not one to throw around lightly. But when a coach calls someone a role model for both the younger and older players, it speaks volumes about that player’s character. And when you look at the players that the Cats have added recently, they all seem to have character in spades. Florida’s management team definitely has a “type.” They are looking for good, high character players to build a strong team identity.
But character will only get you so far — when it’s combined with talent, though, it becomes what’s known as a “force multiplier” in military parlance. That means it multiplies the effect of the player’s (and the team’s) talent. Character is contagious, as well. Maybe not as contagious as the mumps, but contagious nonetheless. Character plus talent is the perfect combination.
In Crouse, the Panthers are getting someone who plays a big, strong game. And that’s a perfect complement to the free-wheeling creativity of players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. It will make the Cats much harder to play against. When Crouse’s physical style combines with the speed of the top lines, it will give them a depth that’s going to make them tough to beat.
“We are thrilled to have selected Lawson in front of our fans at BB&T Center. He is a strong, skilled and physically mature forward who possesses excellent character and led Kingston in points last season. Lawson is another building block for our team and we are confident that he will fit well with our young core of talented players that includes Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau. We look forward to his continued growth and contributions to our team and the South Florida community.” — Dale Tallon
Will Crouse follow in Ekblad’s footsteps and make an immediate impact in Sunrise? That’s not as certain. While Ekblad was widely viewed as being “NHL-ready” coming out of the draft, the jury’s still out as to whether Crouse can make the jump to the NHL in 2015-16. He still needs to add to his passing and skating skills, and will need to learn to reign in his emotions as well.
With that said, he will definitely have a chance when training camp opens in September. Panthers fans will also have a chance to see him earlier when the Panthers hold their development camp at the IceDen from June 29 – July 1. Coach Gerard Gallant has said that he wants Crouse to make the team — so expect the Cats to give him every opportunity to succeed this year. If he doesn’t make the Panthers, he will have to return to the OHL and can’t be called back up to Florida until Kingston’s season is done. Don’t count him out, though.
“He has that fire in the belly. When I first interviewed him at the Combine, he was intense. He looked right through me and intimidated me a little bit. You could tell this kid wants it.” — Dale Tallon
Crouse was also the only NHL prospect to hit a home run during their batting practice at Marlins Park. Not a surprise, considering his baseball background, but is there anything this kid can’t do? With Crouse in the Panthers’ stable, exciting times are in store for the team and their fans.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (email@example.com).