Shortly after the New Jersey Devils made Dawson Mercer the 18th overall pick in the June NHL Entry Draft the team’s general manager was lauding the fact the Bay Roberts product was a “coach’s dream.”
Tom Fitzgerald spoke of Mercer’s play at the world junior championship last year in the Czech Republic, where he helped Canada win the gold medal.
“He played a different role for Canada than what he had been used to playing,” said Fitzgerald of Mercer, “and he did that because that’s what they had asked him to do.”
There was no complaining or sulking. Mercer did what he was asked to do. No problem.
It doesn’t appear things will change this year, as the 2021 version of the national junior team is gathered in Red Deer, Alta. for a selection camp, preparing for the 2021 world junior hockey championship.
Mercer, a forward, is one of six returnees from last year’s world junior squad, joining forwards Quinton Byfield, Dylan Cozens and Connor McMichael and defencemen Bowen Byram and Jamie Drysdale.
Mercer hasn’t played a lot this season with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, but has produced when on the ice with four goals and seven points in five games.
With the national team at the worlds next month in Red Deer and Edmonton, he figures to be a Swiss Army knife do-it-all player again.
Not the least of which will be, as a returnee from the Czech Republic, a leader in the dressing room.
“I want to bring some leadership within the group,” Mercer said the other night after practice on a Zoom video conference with reporters. “We had a real good core group last year, and I think that’s a big reason why we won the gold medal. If we can top that with this group, everything will go just fine.”
Mercer scored 30 goals as a 16-year-old in the QMJHL. Before getting traded to Chicoutimi last season, he opened the 2019-20 QMJHL season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, piling up 42 points in 26 games.
As Fitzgerald reminded reporters after the draft, Mercer has a lot of skill.
“He’s underrated with his skill,” said the New Jersey GM. “He can play.”
Still, Mercer sees himself in a defensive role with the junior nats again this year, and he has no problem with that.
“There’s a ton of great skill on this team, so I’ll play whatever role they give me,” he said. “I think I can play an offensive role, but I can also play sound defensively. There’s that much skill within the group, the offence will come no matter what.
“The mindset I’m coming in here with is to win the gold medal. Getting that gold medal around our necks and singing “O Canada” is a feeling I’m never going to forget.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure it happens again.”
Coach Andre Tourigny said the plan isn’t to ice a team with a strict defence-first mentality, but, he added, Team Canada aims to be a puck-possession squad.
“We want to have the puck a lot, and in order to do that, we have to be smart with the puck and we have to be really good defensively.”
Robin Short is The Trlegram's Sports Editor.