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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Dawson Mercer is brimming with talent

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The only thing holding the forward back is a wonky skating stride, but he has the tools to compensate.

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

For a prospect looking to make a push to get high on an NHL team’s radar in his draft year, you can’t perform much better than Dawson Mercer did in a pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign. Months after clocking in just shy of the point-per-game mark in his second QMJHL season, he hit the ground running with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

From the start of Drummondville’s nine-game winning streak that began on October 4, he went pointless one time in the next two months. That hot start was impossible for Hockey Canada to ignore, and despite not being invited to 2019’s World Juniors camp, he got his chance to tryout with the national under-20 team in December, and earned the rare distinction of making the final roster as an NHL-draft-eligible player. He didn’t have much of an impact in the tournament, but helped out in a depth role to help Canada claim gold.

The incredible opening three months to his season was a major benefit for Drummondville. Just hours after the WJC came to an end, Dawson was traded to a Chicoutimi Saguenéens team with designs on an appearance in the Memorial Cup tournament, the team sending a package of draft picks including three first-round and two second-round selections for one of the top young players in QMJHL.

Birthplace: Carbonear, Newfoundland
Date of birth: October 27, 2001
Shoots: Right
Position: Centre/Winger
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 179 lbs.
Team: Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)

Mercer’s production didn’t hold up to his standard from the first half of the season, dropping from 1.62 points per game to 1.13 with his new team. However, that was still one of the best rates on the Saguenéeens, just behind Montreal Canadiens draft picks Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Samuel Houde. Even with that reduced production, he bettered his assist total from the previous season and was on a pace to increase his goal total as well.

Elite Prospects

Offence hasn’t been an issue for the Newfoundlander in his development years, and it won’t be as he makes his way to the professional game. Like Nick Suzuki, he’s simply too smart to not adapt his game and figure out how to make an impact versus any level of competition.

He’s a deceptive player, often indicating one play to his opponents before executing another. This applies to both what he does with his hands and his feet, able to create space by fooling a defender.

Having great vision, excellent hands, and a good shot don’t hurt his cause either. He seems to prefer the role of setup man, and has the skills to find teammates in motion or through traffic, but when he gets in position or doesn’t have a high-percetage passing option, he doesn’t hestitate to rip a powerful wrist shot on goal, or blast a one-timer from a cross-ice pass.

He’s very stable on his skates, and it makes him seem a lot bigger than his listed 179-pound frame He can survive a check from a much larger defenceman when battling him in the corner, and still be in position to make a play. It also allows him to slip away from an opponent while cyclig the puck and gaining the necessary space to sling an accurate pass to the front of the net for a teammate.

There’s a bit too much stability when he’s trying to race up and down the ice. He puts a lot of effort into his skating stride just to get to an average speed. He can’t pull away from defenders and accelerate into a bit of open space in one-on-one battles, and that’s one of the biggest issues with his game. His deceptions help him overcome the lack of speed, but he will have more difficulty using his offensive skills as he rises through the ranks because of it.

That inefficient stride is why some outlets project him as a winger despite the fact that he played his draft year as a centre. To bring up the comparison to the young Canadiens centreman once more, it’s similar to the situation with Suzuki, who faced the same questions as he came out of Junor hockey, before proving he had more than enough talent to play in the middle at the NHL level.

Mitch Brown’s Tracking Project

He certainly has the defensive skill to stay at the position. Even though he doesn’t have the pace to track down speedy forwards in the neutral zone, he was a strong backchecker this season, and one of the best at breaking up passes and preventing shots in this year’s draft class.

His shiftiness gives him confidence to attempt controlled transitions up the ice. He wasn’t always successful in doing so, and that can probably be blamed on his speed, but he was still one of the best at getting pucks over blue lines with control.

Comparing him to another of the top all-around forwards projected to go early, Jack Quinn, you can tell that Mercer is the more capable puck-handler. Mercer works in the middle of the defensive zone and more on the perimeter of the offensive end, while Quinn is the opposite, fighting along the walls in his zone and powering his way to the net at the other. If a team projects both as wingers at the NHL level, a decision between the two 200-foot players could come down to whether it desires a playmaker or a finisher.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #14
Future Considerations: #13
Hockey Prospect: #18
McKeen’s Hockey: #13
McKenzie/TSN: #13
NHL Central Scouting: #10 (North American skaters)

Because of Mercer’s complete game, he has one of the tighest ranges of rankings of any player outside of Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield in the top two spots. There’s no real outlier that dislikes his game, pegging him as a solid bet to make the NHL in some capacity, even if he isn’t among the elite players available.

There’s little he doesn’t do well, but the skating stride is one of those things. If he works on that, becoming more efficient and making better use of his effort, he could get the most of his complete toolbox and become a star forward in the NHL. However, he’s crafty enough to find success while hampered by such poor form, and that’s why he’ll be chosen so early.