In the introduction to this series, I mentioned that Lawson Crouse would have the fifteenth-lowest adjusted points per game of any CHL player drafted inside the top ten since 1981. That sounds like a pretty specific set of players, but you could also say that he'd be 142nd out of 156, so it's not that specific. Most of the players below and around him on that list didn't have great NHL success, so you'd have to think that Crouse would be unlikely to receive a top ten ranking. But you'd be wrong. Bob McKenzie has him 7th on his final list, International Scouting Services has him 4th, and both McKeen's and Future Considerations have him 10th.
So what's the appeal? For the purposes of projection, I think Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief (who has Crouse as the ninth best forward, probably putting him outside the top ten overall) states the case well:
Lawson Crouse is a huge and physically imposing force who patrols up and down the wing like a shark cruising for prey. His power and wide body make him impossible to separate from the puck down low, and he excels on the cycle, which produces so much of the offense at the NHL level.
Basically, offense isn't going to be his calling card, but the way that he creates offense should translate well to the NHL. A look at Crouse's offensive comparables may be helpful in establishing whether or not that's likely. Are there players scoring at Crouse's level who become good offensive player in the NHL? In this case, a comparable player was someone who played his draft year in the CHL, had an adjusted goals per game rate between 0.43 and 0.58 and adjusted points per game rate between 0.75 and 1.02 (85% to 115% of Crouse's production since the 10% level generated just three names), and was selected somewhere between 2nd and 12th overall. Here are the results:
Crouse's closest comparables are Pat Elyniuk, Craig Duncanson and Mark Bell, none of whom are particularly inspiring, but there are a couple of stars on that list too. To get a better sense of who all these players are, I've listed each player's number of regular season games, his time on ice per game (if the NHL was recording TOI for more than half of the games he played), his points per game, and the first season he played in at least forty games in the chart below:
Crouse is a dangerous pick so early in the draft. Of the fifteen comparables, I think it's fair to say that a third are outright busts (Scissons, Heerema, Duncanson, Govedaris, Fata), and that's a bit scary. On the other hand, it's easy to see why a team might take a gamble on Crouse if they've got visions of the next Gary Roberts dancing between their ears.
Roberts is probably a great example of what Crouse could be if he hits his ceiling, and I wonder if Roberts' career path might be instructive. In his Draft +1 season, Roberts was in the OHL and he took a huge step forward offensively, boosting his points per game by 49%. He followed that with another excellent offensive season in the OHL and then a half-season in the AHL at a point per game before making the jump to the NHL. That patient approach, which lets the offensive skills develop against inferior competition seems like it might serve Crouse well.
I'm too risk averse to have Crouse in my top ten, but with his tools, I understand why at least one NHL team is probably going to disagree.
Next up this afternoon: Jakub Zboril