We are halfway through he season and the Oilers are dead last in the NHL. If all things stay as they are then the team will draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel 1 or 2. It’s so easy your pet rock could do it. Both are centers. Both are elite talents. It looks like McDavid is a level above Eichel and Eichel is a level above everybody else. After those two there are several other names floating around but none more frightening than Lawson Crouse.
Other bad teams are starting to trade their remaining good vets for picks and prospects and soon there could be other bottom-feeders angling out Edmonton for the worst in the NHL. With Arizona abandoning all hope in Net and deciding to go forward with Mike Smith despite all consequences there might be a new contender for worst in the West. Beyond that, Carolina has been horrawful all year and the Sabres have been trying to tank all season long. It’s a 4 horse race to the bottom of the standings.
That’s why one needs to look at the draft rankings for the top 5. Edmonton could easily finish 29th and select 3rd or finish 28th and select 4th.
And that’s why I cringe when I see names like Lawson Crouse creep into the discussion of the top 5.
WHAT ABOUT CROUSE?
Lawson Crouse is Canadian born player who you may have noticed on Team Canada at this past World Junior Championships. I say you may have noticed him because he played on the 4th line the entire time and was in my opinion very forgettable. He scored 1 goal and had 2 helpers in 7 games and was -1 on a Team Canada that dominated the tournament. As a side note, I hate +/- so this is not the basis of my mistrust for Crouse but you have to raise an eyebrow at a player on team Canada who is finishing as a negative.
Draft eligible players on Team Canada rarely play great though. The saying is that it’s a 19 year old’s tournament and that’s for good reason. For example, Max Domi was chosen 12th overall in 2013 and didnt crack the Coyotes in either of his 2 opportunities, he didn’t make Team Canada a year ago, but as a 19 year old he was probably Canada’s best player at the tournament. According to at least Craig Button, that performance by a mid-1st rounder 2 years post Draft was enough to make him the number 1 affiliated prospect in the NHL.
So Lawson Crouse didn’t impress at the WJC. It’s OK. As a 17 year old he wasn’t supposed to be the impressive one. Then again, apparently a lot of scouts liked his game. Loved it even. Craig Button had this to say of Crouse’s tournament:
Lawson Crouse – Canada’s youngest player – became a very important cog in their lineup as the tourney progressed. He demonstrated his ability to contribute with his skating, smarts, size and strength and was part of a very important and formidable line that helped Canada to gold.
I really, really didn’t see any of that, but I’m not a Scout.
So what do Scouts see when they watch Lawson Crouse? They see a Power Forward.*
He’s a man-child LW for the Kingston Frontenacs at 6’3 and 200lbs (Now some are listing him at 6’4″ and 210lbs). His June Birthday means he will be quite young, just 18 years and 3 months when the next NHL season starts despite his impressive frame. He’s a big boy and that’s like heroin for NHL Scouts. They always need their fix and the desire to find the next big man that can play is never satiated no matter how many times you get burned.
In September Bob McKenzie had Crouse 5th and Craig Button had this to say:
Lawson is a ‘big’ man who can impose himself on opponents and make it extremely difficult for them. He is a strong skater with a good burst of speed and if he has the slightest step on a defender, it is an almost impossible task to regain position vs. him. Good puck skills and is a smart player with and without the puck. Developing into the type of player that can be a force at the NHL level.
Note, for foreshadowing, the distinct lack of any mention about his ability to score.
McKeen’s Hockey just released their January Rankings and have Crouse ranked 5th as well. The publication had this to say about Crouse:
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs cemented his status as a premier prospect with an outstanding performance.
Crouse emerged a leader on Canada’s unstoppable fourth line which ground opponents down with a heavy cycle – alongside bulky linemates Nick Ritchie and Frederik Gauthier.
Damien Cox of Sportsnet also put out his mid-season Rankings and he had Crouse 4th Overall. He had this lengthy soliloquy regarding Crouse:
Strong play in a support role for Canada at world juniors solidified his top-5 standing.
Making that team really solidified his spot in the Top 5. Obviously his play in Kingston is really creating a stir and this was just the icing on the cake.
The ISS has Lawson Crouse ranked 3rd Overall in the January rankings. The Director of Scouting for the ISS said this of the big Frontenac:
Crouse is a determined player, that does not give up on any loose pucks or puck battles. He has a lean body on a large frame and once he fills out, he has the potential to be a top six NHL power forward.
3rd Overall and all anybody can say about this kid is that he’s big and battles for the puck well. No real mention of skating, creativity, hockey sense, or shooting ability. Concern is growing.
WHY WONT ANYONE MENTION HIS OHL PLAY?
The word is coming out that people are very high on Lawson Crouse but all anybody can say is that he did a great job on Canada’s 4th line. And that statement isn’t even true! Nobody mentions his play with the Frontenacs, nobody mentions his scoring or creativity. Nobody mentions his Hockey IQ (whatever that may mean).
This is considered by many a very deep Draft. If that’s the case then there should be a lot to say about these things. Especially so for a kid who some people are ranking directly below Connor McDavid and jack Eichel. Well why aren’t they?
One reason might be because there’s absolutely no evidence to support Lawson Crouse being a top 5 talent in the upcoming draft.
Here are his OHL numbers, all with the Kingston Frontenacs:
2013-2014 63GP, 15-12-27 64 PIMs 0.43 p/g
2014-2015 27GP, 13-07-20 55 PIMs 0.74 p/g
These are not the traditional boxcars of a 3rd Overall pick. Or, rather, if the player you pick at 3rd Overall has these boxcars then you’ve made a horrible mistake and you should start packing your office.
What do I tell Susan???
In a draft as reportedly deep as this one you cannot waste a top 5 pick on a player who isn’t even a point per game in the Ontario Hockey League. You just can’t. Points might not be everything, but you cant draft intangibles with a lottery pick.
You can’t bypass Hanifin, Marner, or Strome for a guy who was very arguably OK on Canada’s 4th line for 7 games.
Lawson Crouse should not be on Edmonton’s radar at all, despite his apparent rankings. My concern is that when someone says Power Forward* the Oilers and people affiliated with them tend to get tunnel vision. Just like all those scouting reports that see a big frame and project a top 6 player even though nothing that the kid does on the ice suggests he will ever be a top 6 NHL player, the Oilers project big things on players who dont deserve it. They’ve been burned by Khaira, Moroz, and Pitlick in the very recent past but that doesn’t deter them at all.
Frankly, I wouldn’t select Crouse with Pittsburgh’s pick, let alone Edmonton’s pick. I see somebody who can’t score against his own peers and I’m not even considering that player in the top 60 of the upcoming draft. Let somebody else gamble on that Lottery ticket.
*Feel free to include your own Echo effect there