Lawson Crouse offers proof positive of why the tantalizing tangibles count for more than points.
The Kingston Frontenacs big man has warmed to the role of being a disruptive influence for a team that is much more prone to being locked into low-scoring games after losing 18-year-old Sam Bennett, the Calgary Flames first-rounder who needed shoulder surgery. Crouse, a 6-foot-4, 211-pound winger with a quick release on his shot, is projected to make it back-to-back NHL first-rounders out of the Limestone City. Crouse says the shift in the team's outlook has helped him understand his role as a skilled power winger.
"Whether it's throwing a big bodycheck, or getting the puck to the net, or getting into a fight or scoring a goal, I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win," says Crouse, whom NHL Central Scouting Services listed as an A prospect on its November list for the 2015 NHL draft.
"I feel like I'm playing a strong game overall. I know the points will come eventually, so I'm not too worried about that."
Crouse, who covers the ice very well for a player of his physical dimensions, has nine goals and 13 points over 21 games for Kingston, whose .500 point percentage under first-year head coach Paul McFarland is good for a fifth-place tie in the Eastern Conference.
The Mt. Brydges, Ont., native adds that he benefits from the fact that his two closest friends from his youth hockey days in the London, Ont., area, Ottawa 67's right wing Travis Konecny and Oshawa Generals offensive defenceman Mitch Vande Sompel, are on division rivals that the Fronts face eight times apiece. The imperative to outdo the other was manifest during a Kingston-Ottawa game last Saturday, where Crouse lasered a goal over Leo Lazarev's shoulder but Konecny got four points in a 7-4 win.
"Any time we play it's always a good battle and we look forward to it," says Crouse, who was a reliable forward for Canada at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in August. "It's kind of funny to think that a couple years ago we were playing together, all the way up. It is definitely a unique experience that we have to take advantage of, playing each other so often."
1. How did you develop your mean streak?
"Being a big guy, you have to get out there and throw the body. My dad [Mike Crouse] was a mean guy back in the day, so I guess I take a little bit after him. I just hear about it from stories that he tells me. He probably fluffs it up it a little more than it was."
2. When you arrived in the OHL, you mentioned James Neal as a role model; is it still him and what other NHL players do you study closely?
"Neal is one of them — big power forward and he's got a great shot. He throws the body. I like Rick Nash and I like Milan Lucic, I like the way he plays, his physical ability. I try to combine the qualities of all three of those guys."
3. Who is the toughest defenceman you have encountered so far in the OHL?
"There's not really one I can think of. There's a lot of good D in this league and if you're not ready to go they'll take advantage of you. Obviously, though, my buddy Mitch Vande Sompel [with the Eastern Conference-leading Oshawa Generals], he's a strong defenceman who's having a great year. He has a great speed and some good feet. It's pretty tough to come down 1-on-1 against him."
4. What do you like most about living in Kingston?
"It's a pretty unique city and definitely something that I'm not used to. I've got used to it. The downtown is very nice and our home crowd is very enthusiastic and very energetic. It's nice playing there each and every night, ."
5. What is your favourite movie and/or TV show?
"I'm a big fan of 21 Jump Street. I really enjoy watching that movie; it's pretty funny."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.