The Leafs’ salary cap situation is going to be tight for the foreseeable future, and there probably isn’t going to be much money to go around for the bottom half of the lineup. Being able to identify cost effective options, including players on entry level contracts will be paramount for Kyle Dubas as he looks to insulate his talented core with reliable depth pieces. Dawson Mercer of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the QMJHL is one of the most intelligent and reliable players in this draft, but also boasts enough offensive ability to have climbed all the way up into the middle of the first round in most draft rankings.
Mercer started last year with Drummondville and produced at an impressive rate with 42 points in 26 games. That production, along with his smarts and work ethic, helped earn him a spot on Canada’s World Junior roster. He was held off the score sheet in the tournament, but even making the team and earning minutes on the fourth line was notable for a first-year draft eligible player. Mercer was traded to Chicoutimi following the WJC and his pace slowed as he adjusted to his new surroundings, finishing with 18 points in 16 games after the trade.
Mercer is a hard working, high motor player with a hockey IQ that makes him effective all over the ice. He makes excellent reads and is constantly setting up opposing defenders, with and without the puck on his stick.
A couple of great off-puck reads from Dawson Mercer (2020). First, basically faking out the defender to create some separation, then using Lavoie’s lateral cut across to his advantage. Second, leaves the pass for teammate + ties up the opp’s stick to ensure the pass connects. pic.twitter.com/uf4mKln5Ln
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) August 8, 2020
Aside from his puck handling, Mercer doesn’t really have any high end skills that jump off the screen but he consistently makes subtle little plays like the ones above to create extra space for himself and his teammates.
His skating isn’t a weakness by any means, but I consider him to be more powerful than he is quick on his feet. He does, however, have excellent body control that he combines with his great hands in tight to make him a menace in front of the net. He is able to pull pucks loose and elevate from in close, but he can also make defenders look foolish with his ability to maintain control through traffic. As I mentioned earlier, Mercer is always thinking a step ahead and here he makes the defender bite on the curl back before spinning back around and beating him along the boards on his way to the net:
Dawson Mercer with some pretty nifty puck-handling before the assist.
— Andy Lehoux (@Andylehoux1) April 29, 2020
Mercer is a strong penalty killer, relentlessly pressuring opposing puck carriers and forcing them into bad decisions. Here he breaks up the play in his own zone and leaves the point man in the dust as he powers through the neutral zone for a shorthanded chance, but my favourite part of this clip is how he sticks with the play after getting stopped on the breakaway:
— Andy Lehoux (@Andylehoux1) June 12, 2020
He is a kid who is willing to put it all on the line and do whatever it takes to help his team win the game, whether it be taking a hit to make a play or throwing his body in front of a shot on the penalty kill.
Arguably one of the best shifts I’ve seen in my viewings of Dawson Mercer (#19 in red). Stays in excellent position, taking away passing lanes. Throws his body in front of a heavy shot. Diving effort and then racing back to position. Solid work ethic pic.twitter.com/OhFkjuihmy
— kyle pereira (@pereira_report) August 3, 2020
Mercer’s shot is deceptive and he will hesitate with the puck on his stick to open up shooting and passing lanes. He is more of a balanced offensive threat rather than a pure playmaker or sniper, but he does have the ability to beat goaltenders from the outside at the junior level.
Several of you have asked me about Dawson Mercer as a potential at 15 overall for the Penguins. It’s certainly a good call. Right-handed center with a shot that doesn’t get enough discussion. Take a look at this thing. Ridiculous. Head up, eyes and hands talking to each other. pic.twitter.com/bmhxik1No6
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) August 12, 2020
He isn’t the biggest player at 6’0″ and 180 pounds, but he is always hunting the puck and isn’t scared to use his body to separate defenders from the puck on the forecheck. He works hard along the boards with his hands allowing him to come away victorious in puck battles more often than not, and he’ll make the opposition pay if they don’t move the puck quickly. In the clip below, his shot completely handcuffs the goaltender and before the defenceman even knows he’s there, Mercer pokes the puck free to his teammate and puts himself in position to finish the play:
Check out this cheeky little OT winner from Dawson Mercer earlier in the year.
He takes the shot, it pops up, he pokes it to Xavier Simoneau who finds Mercer on the backside in a position to tap it in!
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) August 17, 2020
The current Leafs forward group isn’t exactly flush with players you would say have the ability to slide up and down the lineup, but Mercer has the potential to be that kind of player in the future. He is a good penalty killer who is responsible defensively at even strength as well, relentless in puck pursuit, and makes good reads all over the ice. He has the work ethic and defensive awareness to be an effective third line player but he also has the smarts and puck skills to keep up with high end offensive players, if he reaches his ceiling. He’s a powerful skater, but will need to improve his acceleration and change of direction as he continues to develop.
Kyle Dubas and his scouting staff have earned a reputation for placing a premium on skill and hockey IQ at draft time. Thanks in large part to Barb Underhill, the Leafs have also earned a reputation as an organization that can work with and improve the skating ability of their players. Unlike some of the other players in this range of the draft, Dawson Mercer would provide some much needed versatility to Toronto’s forward group in the future and he has plenty of traits that will land him on the Leafs’ radar if no one scoops him up before the 15th pick.
(Statistics from eliteprospects.com)