Devils Draft Series: Dawson Mercer, Underrated QMJHL Scorer

Dawson Mercer dropped down many people’s boards in the second half of the season. (Photo by Drummondville Voltigeurs)

Profile

Dawson Mercer is an 18-year-old right-wing who is projected by many to switch to center. His birthday is in October, so he is a bit older for this draft class. He is listed as 6-foot, 180 pounds. The right-handed shot has played his whole junior career in Canada and also represented Team Canada on a few different occasions internationally. He dropped in the final North American skaters 2020 Draft Prospect Rankings list, from sixth in the midterm rankings to 10th in the final rankings.  

The Statistics

Mercer started his junior career as a 13-year-old in the NLBAAAHL. In two seasons in the league, he played 52 games and tallied a whopping 111 points (62 goals, 49 assists). His 111 points are the most in league history, and he also has the highest point per game average at 2.14. In comparison, former 2018 16th overall pick, Alex Newhook, had a career 1.71 point per game average in the same league.

After setting league records in the NLBAAAHL, Mercer moved on to the Midwest Prep Hockey League, where he tallied 22 points in 18 games. This point per game average ranks 50th out of 1,314 qualified players all-time. He also participated in the Prep School Hockey Federation the same season. The first four games in the U-16 segment, then the U-18 segment, where he played 11 games and tallied 12 points.

Mercer made his CHL debut in the QMJHL the following season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. In his first season, he played 61 games as a 16-year-old, tallying 26 points in 61 games while playing extremely limited minutes. His second season in the QMJHL, he made a jump and was nearly a point per game player, totaling 64 points in 68 games. This point total was fifth on a team with the second-best record in the league, which eventually lost in the semi-finals.  

This season, Mercer got off to an electric start on a Drummondville team that regressed slightly from the year before. He played 26 games and totaled 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) single-handedly carrying his line. After these 26 games, he was the team-leader in points by a pretty large margin.

However, Mercer was traded to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens for an unreal package that included six draft picks. After the trade, Mercer struggled, and his production regressed. He tallied 18 points in 16 games, which is a 1.13 point per game average compared to the 1.62 average pre-trade. Mercer was also injured after the trade after taking a gnarly slice to the arm area (see below). This resulted in him missing some time and only playing in a total of 42 games. This is most likely the reason for his slide down some scout boards (see 2020 Draft Prospect Rankings).

It’s worth noting Mercer did make Team Canada’s 2020 World Junior Championship team that won the gold medal. He was a long shot to make the roster, however, he did a great job earning a spot. He served as the tam’s 13th forward and did go scoreless in the seven games he played. Nonetheless, it was great for Mercer to earn a spot on the roster.

Mercer’s Scouting Report

Strengths

Mercer’s game is built on his offensive abilities. His stickhandling is superb, and he does a wonderful job in controlling the puck in and through traffic. He has what many call “silky mitts” and is solid in-and-around the net at finishing pucks, as well as making opponents miss in transition via dekes. 

Every aspect of his shot is also above average. There is no bad shot for Mercer, as he has a special ability to get the puck through to the goalie and do it with solid accuracy and speed from anywhere on the ice. His release is extremely quick, and couple this with usually a great shot selection, his shot is lethal. 

Although he is a solid goal-scorer, playmaking is another area where Mercer excels. He is a good passer who is described to have “360-degree vision.” His stellar stickhandling, coupled with a great awareness of where his teammates are, makes him good in setting his teammates up for chances.

Mercer also holds his own in the defensive end. He is a great penalty killer who generates several breakaways while doing so. He also excels in forechecking and is great along the boards using his size to win puck battles. These defensive abilities are strongly aided and directly a result of a high-motor, great work ethic, and high intensity. His size also allows him to have a great reach, which helps disrupt opposing teams’ offense.

Weaknesses 

One of Mercer’s main weaknesses is his over-reliance on his stickhandling. He sometimes gets himself in trouble and turns the puck over because he tries to do too much. He needs to control his urge to try to weave through numerous defenders. Although he is often successful, more reliance on his teammates in these circumstances can help.

As mentioned above, the main reason why Mercer dropped from sixth to 10th in the final Draft Prospect Rankings is due to his regression once traded. His point per game average took a large hit, and other aspects of his game slightly faltered. This struggle can easily be an overreaction, as it was most likely just a perfect storm of adapting to a new environment as well as fighting through a scary-looking injury. After all, he did still rank 12th in the league with a 1.43 point per game average.

Projection

Mercer is an exciting player who can do it on both ends of the ice. His strong start to the season had many regarding him as a future first-line scorer. However, once his play dipped after the trade, it seems the consensus projection on Mercer is a top-six scoring forward with defensive upside. It’s also worth nothing Mercer played right-wing throughout his junior career. But given how strong he is in both ends of the ice, many say he can translate as a center in the NHL. 

Some have gone as far as moving Mercer down to a very-late first-round pick. For me, that is a bit much for a player that has produced in several different leagues across Eastern Canada. When it’s all said and done, I expect him to be selected anywhere between picks 15-19. In the end, I’m going to be higher on Mercer than most, as is evident in my rankings below. 

Fit With the Devils 

The Devils’ second first-round pick is too early for Mercer. The only way where this would make sense is if the top-ten goes in such an imperfect way for New Jersey that he is the best player available in that spot, which is extremely unlikely.

Instead, Mercer should be at play for the Devils at selection 17 (where the team’s projected third first-rounder should be). He has the capabilities to play both wing — which the Devils desperately need — as well as center. Doing so in a manner with great offensive prowess and potential, while being reliable on defense. Mercer should be considered at 17 by New Jersey.

Ranking of Evaluated Prospects

1. Alexis Lafrenière (no profile will be released)

2. Tim Stützle (05/07/2020)

3. Quinton Byfield (05/08/2020)

4. Marco Rossi (04/30/2020)

5. Jamie Drysdale (05/01/2020)

6. Lucas Raymond (04/28/2020)

7. Alexander Holtz (04/29/2020)

8. Cole Perfetti (05/05/2020)

9. Anton Lundell (05/11/2020)

10. Yaroslav Askarov (05/05/2020)

11. Seth Jarvis (05/13/2020)

12. Jake Sanderson (05/04/2020)

13. Dawson Mercer (Today)

14. Rodion Amirov (05/12/2020)

15. Jack Quinn (05/09/2020)

16. Dylan Holloway (05/14/2020)

17. Connor Zary (05/15/2020)

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