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2020 NHL Draft Preview: Dawson Mercer

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Could Edmonton look to the QMJHL for this year’s first round selection?

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Here is an interesting question: What league’s do the Oilers draft from the most in the first round?

This has been something that has been fairly consistent over the course of the franchise’s 41 years in the NHL. In that long history the team has held a first round selection in every year but one, that being the 2006 draft. Quite the impressive feat considering how often first round draft picks are traded away to acquire top end talent.

If we break down those 40 selections even further we can figure out where the Oilers dip their feet into most often. The answer shouldn’t come as a surprise as they tend to stick to the North American talent pool, more specifically the CHL. 30 of those picks have come from both the WHL and the OHL (15 each) while the QMJHL only accounts for 5 first round selections. It seems as though the team tends to steer clear of Quebec’s junior league, especially lately, as the last first round selection taken by the Oilers from the QMJHL was Marc-Antoine Pouliot in the 2003 draft. A weird outlier considering how often they select out the WHL and OHL.

A strange statistic to say the least, but I brought it up with purpose. This trend could come to an end this October as, Newfoundland native, Dawson Mercer is primed to be on the board when the Oilers are set to pick at #14.

Who Is Dawson Mercer?:

Dawson Mercer is a playmaking forward out of the QMJHL who just finished a 60 point campaign. He started the 2019/20 season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs but found himself traded to a much more competitive squad in the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. He spent his first two seasons playing the right-wing but has found success at the center position this past season.

Mercer is known for his playmaking knack much more than his goalscoring ability. He didn’t dazzle the Q like many other players in this draft, finishing 30th overall in points, but he does possess a variety of tools that make him a viable first round pick. He is effective in all three zones of the ice and uses a combination of size and speed to hassle both defenders and offensive threats alike.

His ability to play a 200 foot game at such a young age is impressive and bodes well for any team in search of “all situation” type of player. Mercer is a tenacious forward who forechecks his opponents hard and is difficult to get off the puck, making him an ideal cycle player. His willingness to play a physical game only helps him in these respects.

There is also the pure skill that Mercer possess. He has great hands when it comes to tight situations. It almost seems he is able to stickhandle better when he has more players around him. It is a unique skill to have and a valuable one in such a close quarter game.

This high IQ can also be seen in the defensive zone. Through a blend of physical play and hard work, Mercer has shown to be effective at creating turnovers and forcing opponents to make decisions before they are ready.

Let’s take a look at what the scouts are saying about him:

Mike Morreale (NHL.com): “Mercer is a right-shot forward capable of playing in all situations. Mercer is a smart, heads-up skater who finishes checks and is strong on the power play and penalty kill”

Cam Robinson (dobberprospects): “Intelligent, play-creating winger. Makes the hard plays, but can also dazzle with his puck skills. Two-step quickness already showing improvements. Wears opponents down”

Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet): “His passion and energy are infectious. Possesses excellent hands and shooting ability. Built for the small-space game”

Craig Button: (TSN): “Dawson is a plug-and-play player. He can play centre or wing, and that adaptability allows him to move around the lineup and contribute. Competitive with very good skills”

Does He Make Sense At 14?:

Mercer seems to have all the tools necessary to make him a solid first round draft pick. Let’s take a look at where the experts expect him to land on draft day:

Bob Mckenzie (TSN): 13

Craig Button (TSN): 17

Sam Cosentino (Sportsnet): 14

Josh Bell (The Hockey Writers): 18

There isn’t quite a clear-cut consensus on where Mercer could wind up. What we do know from these rankings is that it is likely that he will be on the board when the Oilers select. As far as I’m concerned I am not yet convinced that Mercer is quite the right player for the Oilers at this point in time. While he does possess a strong skillset as a two-way forward I don’t necessarily think he has the offensive prowess that the team lacks on the wings.

He is a versatile forward, who can play both center and wing, and would add a lot to the organizations forward depth. At pick 14 he would make sense as a selection for sure.

Potential Fit with Oilers?:

Any forward that the Oilers take at this position would be expected to one day play alongside Connor McDavid. It is the one position that the team has struggled to figure out and so that is where we should project Mercer. I don’t think he would be quite ready to play NHL minutes in 2020/21, so a season in Europe is most likely the next stop in his career (given the murky future of the CHL during the pandemic).

As I mentioned before I am not sure that Mercer is the right person to bet on playing with McDavid. He is a smart player who is able to create space for his teammates and he does have a great shot but I am not too sure about his play away from the puck. Defensively he is great but how is he in the offensive zone away from the puck? Any linemate of McDavid’s will have to have a knack for finding the right spots in the o-zone.

If we look past that question, Mercer would be solid add. If I were to compare him to a player on Edmonton’s roster I would probably pin him as a more aggressive Nugent-Hopkins. A two-way forward who is responsible in each end and can let it rip when he has space. Still a very good projection.

If he isn’t riding shotgun with McDavid he could definitely be a fit on the team’s second line, especially if they are unable to resign Nugent-Hopkins.

Conclusion:

Dawson Mercer is a solid two-way forward that is aggressive on the forecheck and has a knack for setting up his teammates. He projects to be a top 6 forward in the NHL and I will estimate that his time of arrival will fall at either the 2021/22 or the 2022/23 season

If I were to rank the two players we have covered so far in order of who I would draft it would look like this:

  1. Yaroslav Askarov (G)
  2. Dawson Mercer (C/RW)

I think the upside for Askarov to improve this team is much higher than a guy like Mercer. Considering the other forwards that could be available at #14 I think it would be a disappointing selection for the Oilers to pick Mercer.

What do you think of Dawson Mercer at pick #14?