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Get to Know Lawson Crouse
Date of Birth: 6/23/1997
Place of Birth: Mt. Brydges, ON
Ht: 6’4″ Wt: 212 lbs
Position: Left Wing
Team: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
In the entire 2015 draft class, there isn’t another prospect as divisive as Lawson Crouse. Some scouting services have him going 4, some 11th, and some even later. The budding power forward brings NHL size, a solid 2-way game, and an absolutely gorgeous wrist shot, but he finished 63rd in OHL scoring and didn’t even break the point per game barrier.
So, who is Lawson Crouse? A game-changing 2-way force like the scouts suggest? A decent depth scorer like the numbers imply? Or is he something else entirely?
What Scouts See
November 2014 – Don’t get wrapped up by his mediocre offensive production because you need to watch this kid to really appreciate what he brings to the game. Lawson Crouse is the type of player that every coach wants on his team because you can throw him out in every situation and know he’s going to make an impact.
One of the smartest two-way forwards in the draft, Crouse has the size and strength that makes him a low-risk selection and he can play up and down in the lineup. He’s shown impressive gains in his offensive game and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a top-six winger at the next level.
Every time he hits the ice, he does something – whether it’s dominating the cycle game or stripping an attacking player of possession – that makes you go, “wow, he’s going to be good”. Lawson Crouse has scored nine times and sits with 13 points through 21 games. He’s projected as a Top 10 pick for the 2015 NHL Draft.
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.
What BSN Avalanche sees
Lawson Crouse is one of those players that has an absolutely fantastic highlight reel. The first thing you notice is his size (a NHL-ready 6′-4″, 212lbs) and his willingness to bang in rebounds, hit, or drop the gloves. He also has a very accurate shot, a quick release, an innate understanding of where to be, and a deadly burst of speed off the rush, plus he’s a mature player and Alternate Captain with many intangibles. He’s a regular on the power play and penalty kill, is competent defensively, and overall has just about all the skills any organization could want in a power forward prospect.
There are still red flags. His scoring – or rather, lack thereof – is a big one. His 51pts in 56 games did lead his team, but it’s more in line with later round picks than players expected to go Top 10. Yes, he wasn’t surrounded by the most talented linemates, but he also didn’t elevate their games either.
Why is this? For one, I found he struggles with keeping the puck on his stick under pressure. When even smaller players engage him, stick lifts and small bumps seem to knock the puck away easily. Even in the corners, he has trouble maintaining or gaining possession despite his size advantage. The same goes for passing, as he often fails at getting the puck within even his teammates’ general vicinity.
His shot is certainly not the issue – that wrister is a thing of beauty – but he needs either a clean rebound or an empty lane to the net to use it. Very rarely will you see a Crouse goal through close traffic, even though he has the size to push people out of his way. He also seems to struggle receiving passes, which is a problem given how closely the D cover him.
He’ll absolutely destroy the opposition if given time and space, but he’s pretty easy to shut down and steal from otherwise. This contradicts what most scouts have said about him in the past, but since he was the top threat on his injured team for most of the year, other coaches seem to have figured out this weakness. His hands are silky smooth without traffic, but they (and his vision) clearly still need work the rest of the time.
He’s also not really the type to park in front of the goalie. He’ll do it, to be sure, but he’s more likely to be found gliding around low in the zone, battling along the boards or looking to use his wrister. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for someone to consistently screen the goalie, that may not be the absolute best use of Crouse. He also loves to hit, but he doesn’t really do it much on open ice, and he could probably make better use of his size to push around and fend off defensemen around the net.
His top speed and acceleration are decent, but his side-to-side mobility isn’t great. He can attack the net like a freight train if the opposing lets him get a step on them, but he’s still unlikely to win too many long footraces. His forechecking is aggressive and his skating probably won’t hold him back too much at the NHL level, but he’d likely be one of the slower members of the Avs’ squad if he ends up in Colorado.
He’s a good player that belongs in the NHL sometime soon, there’s no doubt about that. However, whether that’s in a top 6 or bottom 6 role is the million dollar question of this draft.
Box scores may not tell the full story, but they also don’t lie. Crouse has the tools to be a top line triggerman and power forward, but he also could top out as a 3rd line penalty killer and depth scorer. Teams will salivate over what he could be, but the reality of what he is might not be as rosy as what the highlight reels show.
He’ll easily make the NHL – he’s probably close to ready right now – but it’s anyone’s guess as to where his offensive ceiling really stands. He could easily be one of the top 3-5 players in this draft, or he could go down as a “what were they thinking?!”
My bet is that it’s more of the latter. Crouse is going to be a meaningful player that helps his team win games with his two-way play, but he’s more likely to be a complement than a game changer. He’ll continue to have the occasional “wow” moment, but unless he’s paired with a great amount of talent who pass really well, I doubt he scores as much as his draft position will imply.
He’s probably in for near two decades of “why did we draft him instead of <insert safer prospect’s name here>”, but he’ll be helping his team find ways to win. How much do organizations value that? And how much faith are they willing to put in the small chance his offense pans out?
He’ll probably have a solid NHL career, but he’ll also likely cost a head scout his job if selected in the Top 10. Many will disagree with me, but I don’t think he has quite the upside that’s being promised. Given the talent of those likely to be selected after him, he’s perhaps the biggest high risk-high reward prospect in this draft, despite appearing to be a very safe pick on the surface.
Expected Draft Position
As mentioned, he’s likely a top 10 pick, but he could go 4th, or he could still be there at #10 or even #20. I expect someone in the single digits will think he’s a lucky number 7 and take a flyer on him, but it’s really going to vary team by team how comfortable they are assuming that risk.
How Prospect Fits in Avalanche Organization
Ideally, Crouse would be Iginla’s eventual replacement. Even though he plays left wing instead of right, his power forward and sniping game is somewhat similar in style to the current version of #12. The big question becomes whether or not Crouse can even come close to replacing a near 30 goal scorer. The shot to do so is there. It’s the everything else that’s concerning.
At worst, Crouse would likely play somewhat of a McGinn type role, a 3rd line two-way guy that could fill up to the Top 6 in times of need. Either way, if drafted, the Ontarian would instantly share the top spot on the Avs forward prospect board with 2014 #23 Overall, Conner Bleackley. Both scored around the same amount during their draft-eligible year, although Crouse likely (hopefully) has more untapped upside.
Overall, Lawson Crouse could become a devastating 2-way force at the NHL level, or he could go down as an ultimately disappointing choice at 10th Overall. He fits an Avs area of need almost exactly, but with all the sure-fire skill in this incredibly deep draft, is he really worth the risk?