The Arizona Coyotes started their 2016-17 campaign with four true rookies on their roster, but over the course of the season, they invited many more into the fray. The team began their campaign with rookie controversy in the fight between Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak for consistent playing time, but in the midst of this struggle, began to lose the war.
The Coyotes got off to an abysmal start after beating the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime to start the season. Mike Smith got hurt and everything went downhill from there. Shane Doan was “a shell of his previous self” to some and Louis Domingue seemed to regress from his previous season’s success.
Yet in this fray, one rookie played in 88% of the team’s 82 games and put up 12 points while playing just a hair under 12 minutes a game on average. Lawson Crouse was an unsung hero to the team at a point in the team’s history when young bottom 6 players haven’t always panned out.
In fact, I’d challenge you to name a young player to make the Coyotes (beyond the Swiss Army Knife more commonly known as Jordan Martinook) that has stuck with this team and I could come back with three who returned back to the AHL after a short and inconspicuous stint in the NHL.
While all the brightest lights that this team could muster were focused on others - like Anthony Duclair’s complete disappearance, Max Domi’s season/hand-altering fight, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s odd change in engagement (which was later found to be a combination if his mother suffering from a terminal disease and a nagging injury) - Lawson Crouse began to assume the role few had succeeded in before him, leading the Coyotes bottom line forwards.
Now, many were and still are critical of Crouse. He was a first round pick and the Coyotes took on a lot of debt in Dave Bolland’s contract to get him. Furthermore, that trade raised a lot of questions, at least when viewing Crouse from the Florida Panthers’ perspective. Was Crouse not living up to first-round expectations? Did he make a bad impression over his time at prospect camps? We will probably never know if any of those were even close to the case, but Crouse came to Arizona as the grease to a dead contract and that led fans to be somewhat suspicious.
Crouse played an important role on the Coyotes this season and has proved to be, at least somewhat, worth the cost. Crouse ground out plays, he began to learn to use his size, particularly in the later stages of the season and most importantly, he began to learn his role. That education started with his first NHL fight.
See, Crouse is not a brawler. He is not John Scott. They may have the same nickname to Tyson Nash (*eye roll*), but they aren’t the same player. Lawson Crouse is a younger, faster, much more talented Kyle Chipchura, with a higher ceiling and far larger potential for leadership in an increasingly young organization.
And while I personally would have loved for Crouse to get to 25 points/10 goals, I think he did well, considering how the rest of the team played. If I were to grade him, I’d give him a B+, tell him to find a gym over the summer and come back to fall training camp a little leaner and a ton stronger because if he can continue to take those physical steps upward, his on ice applications will only grow.
Crouse played a vital role in the team’s development this season. He has the size at 6 foot 4 inches and the strength to be a powerful leader in the Coyotes bottom 6 for years to come. And if he finds a way to channel Shane Doan’s grit and nose for the net-front, he could grow upwards to compliment a true sniper such as Brendan Perlini, or a playmaker like Max Domi.
Lawson Crouse has something to offer this team. Just as you never underestimate the abilities of the often under-recognized defensive defensemen, never undervalue a young grinder coming into his own.
What Grade Would You Give Lawson Crouse?
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The grades of all the other Coyotes players can be found on our master post here.