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Florida Panthers Top 25 Under 25: #12 Lawson Crouse

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The team's most recent first round selection comes it at #12 on our countdown.

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Lawson Crouse

Position: LW

Birthdate: 06/03/1997 (18)

Acquired: 1st round selection (11th overall selection), 2015 NHL Entry Draft

2014-15 Team/League: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Stats:

GP G A PTS PIM +/-
56 29 22 51 70 10

Nationality: Canadian

Size: 6'4", 215 pounds

Contract Status: $925,000 AAV (becomes RFA at the end of the 2017-2018 season, unless he is sent back to juniors; then his contract "slides" for another season)

As the team's most recent first round draft pick, there are high expectations for Lawson Crouse's future in South Florida, and it's a future that could possibly even start in the 2015-2016 season. The big-bodied winger's size, speed, and defensive skill certainly aren't up for debate, as those three attributes have long been classified as Crouse's best. His offensive skills, however, may not be NHL-ready as of right now, as he averaged less than a point per game in the OHL last season. In a league where the best players usually average anywhere from one-and-a-half to two points per game, seeing such a high-end draft pick fail to meet offensive expectations does raise some red flags, and if his point totals are indicative of his offensive skills at the moment, it's unlikely the 18-year-old will see time on the pro roster this season.

There is reason to believe, however, that Crouse's point totals aren't the best indicator of his offensive skill. His OHL team (the Kingston Frontenacs) was one of the lowest scoring teams in the entire league last season, and overall, Crouse had little help up front when it came to creating offense. We looked at some of the numbers after Dale Tallon drafted Crouse back in June, and here's what we came up with:

Big, fast, and talented, Lawson Crouse is Dale Tallon's prototypical power forward. The Cats had the Kingston Frontenac standout sixth on their final list, and were absolutely thrilled that the winger fell to 11th overall.

Looking at statistics, however, Crouse is anything but a slam dunk selection. The jury is still out, and it has actually been deliberating on the winger's status for quite some time now. Several articles look into "the Sherrif's" value as a top ten draft pick, with some, such as the one by Jonathan Willis of Sportsnet, being negative, and others, such as this one from Along the Boards, being slightly more positive.

If that Along the Boards article looks familiar to anyone, it's because I wrote it shortly after the LBC Staff made Lawson Crouse our selection in the SBN Mock Draft (going to pat myself on the back here; I totally called that one).

Essentially, Crouse got screwed in his draft year. Not only did he play on a bad team, but the Frontenacs also had a ridiculously low shooting percentage. That type of bad luck usually changes at some point, especially at the NHL level.

If we bump Crouse's numbers up slightly by giving his team league average shooting percentage, and then recalculate his NHL probability using the cohort model at the Projection Project, the big-bodied winger's chance of being an NHLer stands at 72%; the sixth highest forward on their entire list.

So, there's definitely reason to be optimistic headed into the future, though there's no guarantee that Crouse makes the NHL this season. From our development camp coverage:

Will he make the NHL team out of training camp? I don't know. There's so much else that could happen between now and October, and even then, development camp isn't exactly the best time to be viewing a player. Aaron Ekblad looked okay, but not good, during camp last year, got paired withBrian Campbell to start the season, and ended up winning the Calder Trophy.

Will Crouse get a nine-game tryout? Yes. Will he stay on the roster past then? I truly don't know.

And some more thoughts from a breakdown of Rocco Grimaldi's potential.

A third line consisting of Vincent Trocheck, Grimaldi, and Lawson Crouse could wreak havoc on the opposition if given a sheltered role. When Grimaldi played with Trocheck in the NHL, the two had a SAT% of 58.0%, and when Grimaldi played with Kyle Rau in the AHL (Rau and Trocheck play similar styles of hockey), the two had a SAT% of 84.6%.

Though the AHL data comes from a very small sample that was manually tracked by Running with the Herd (which is great San Antonio Rampage blog, by the way), for Grimaldi to play so well with other small, fast, relentless puck pursuit players is encouraging.

Adding Lawson Crouse to that line brings size and a net front presence, as well as more speed, stick skills, and puck retrieval abilities. The three of them could dominate at preventing opponents to maneuver through the neutral zone, and then create tons of offensive opportunities by either entering the zone with possession, or by chipping the puck in, retrieving it, and cycling the puck behind the net.

There is no guarantee that Crouse is ready to play in the NHL, and he may be sent back down to juniors. Still, adding another player with speed and puck retrieval skills to a third line of Trocheck and Grimaldi could make for one of the most effective third lines in the league.

All of this speculation doesn't mean anything, but in the end, if Crouse does play his way onto the NHL team, I think there's no doubt that 1) he'll have earned it and 2) he'll be a useful player.

His long-term value is up for debate, but right now the ceiling for Crouse is top line, elite two-way player, and the floor really does seem to be great two-way third line play who eats up minutes on the penalty kill.

There's a huge gap in the LBC rankings of Crouse, as I believe that the 18-year-old power forward will develop into that elite two-way player, while others don't see the youngster developing to that level (yet). We'll have to wait and see, but his raw size, speed, and defensive skill are what got him #12 on this year's T25U25.

Where We Voted for Crouse

Shane Todd JC Kevin Donny
5 12 7 21 11

Who We Voted 12th

Shane Todd JC Kevin Donny
Rocco Grimaldi Lawson Crouse

Rocco Grimaldi

Logan Shaw Alex Petrovic