New Jersey Devils development of Dawson Mercer secures forward core
Despite (another) dismal season for the New Jersey Devils, Dawson Mercer’s emergence as a legit NHL player could have major ramifications for the organization’s depth chart going forward. At the ripe old age of 20, Mercer was the only Devil to have played in all 82 games and his 42 points (17g-25a) were good enough for sixth place on the team.
Adding Mercer to New Jersey’s collection of talented young forwards – Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich – gives the Devils five building blocks. Those are five big pieces of the puzzle that is their championship quest. It remains to be seen how GM Tom Fitzgerald fills out the rest of this puzzle, but Mercer’s addition to this group definitely came sooner than expected. And that probably changed some of the planning.
“It’s a good problem to have to be completely honest. Where this young man started and where he ended, I didn’t think would be possible. I thought he would see a few games this year,” Fitzgerald said during his end-of-season media availability, “but really help Utica, and Utica helps him develop his game. As we’ve seen, the staff that we had (here) really helped him get to the point where he never took his foot off the pedal: from rookie camp, to main camp, to the start of the season. He showed that he pushes to play every game, and it was a difficult decision for our coaches. They couldn’t remove him from the lineup.
If the season had gone differently, if the Devils hadn’t been decimated by injury and illness – we probably would have seen Mercer sit out for a game or two midway through the season when he really hit that wall rookies – zero goals and five assists in 14 games from January 2 to February 7. Or even at the end of the season when he went scoreless for 18 games before scoring one in the season finale. The child fought through it all and his behavior never changed. Especially at the end of the season, he still had energy in his game and did many other things when Hughes and Hischier were absent.
“After going through the full 82, you gain so much more knowledge and really understand what the process of playing in the NHL is like. This is where I want to be for a long time,” Mercer said at the end of his rookie season.
“There are just times when you start to burn out and the season seems long. Next year I want to eliminate as much as possible and play as well as possible in all 82 games again. I want to come back stronger. This will definitely be my main focus. We want to continue playing at this time next year.
Mercer already had his exit meetings with Fitzgerald and head coach Lindy Ruff when he met the media. It quickly became clear that he had an idea of how they felt. When the New Jersey general manager spoke a few days later and outlined what he wanted his rising young star to work on this offseason.
“We talk about our young talents, we talk about having the right people (in place) to help them continue to develop that part of their game rather than stifling it in areas. Dawson, I think it really benefited. But there is much more. He knows from our exit meeting: Force. Strength. Strength,” Fitzgerald said.
“We have a lot of the same things, right off the bat. We have good players, very good players, talented players, but I think we have a lot of similar things. I don’t want much of the same. It’s time to start mixing and matching and building a team,” Fitzgerald added. “Especially in attack, and being more difficult to face. Heavier skills, not just throwing pucks, but straight-line players are important for successful teams. We have young talents, we all know that. But that’s the exciting part for me as a manager in building what I believe is not only a team that can compete to make the playoffs, but also make the playoffs.
So who was he talking about when he said “we have a lot of the same”? Fitz is entering perhaps his biggest offseason yet as the team’s general manager. Pavel Zacha, Michael McLeod, Jesper Boqvist – they’re all pretty much playing the same game. Who was more worthy or versatile last season? There are kids coming into the system who play the same style. And then there’s Alexander Holtz, the Swedish sniper who might be one of the missing pieces of the New Jersey puzzle.
Fitzgerald had patience with Boqvist; in fact, with both Jespers, and it paid off this season as they both had career years. He’s been patient with Holtz so far. Next season, he will have every chance of making the Devils roster on opening night.
“It’s been an extremely positive year with Alex. Coming last year and getting a sample of what the AHL is, the close quarters and the in-game play really helps win the battle at the end of the game. day – how much time and space you have less. I thought that was very important in the 8 or 9 games he played last year,” Fitzgerald replied when asked about the development of the 7th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft Holtz has two assists in nine NHL games this season, 51 points (26g-25a) in 52 AHL games, and is currently in the playoffs with the Utica Comets.
“I thought he had a really good camp. That being said, the AHL and patience with a player is really a developmental tool. Having that patience with Alex I believe has paid off and I will too. The expectations for him are that we expect him to come and challenge for a job (next season). He now understands the details I talk about all the time – the wall game, puck management, having a good stick.
“We all know what he does well,” the general manager said with a laugh. “We don’t have anyone in the organization who shoots the puck like him, and he has really good vision. Where we need to see some development is its first steps, its anticipation. Again, be stronger on the pucks along the wall. This season couldn’t have gone better for Alex Holtz in my eyes.
“Those are good problems to have when you develop young players; you fish well and you develop young players.
Add an NHL-caliber Holtz to the group of Hischier, Hughes, Bratt, Mercer and Sharangovich and it’s a nice six-pack of young guns. Now Fitzgerald needs to find NHL-caliber snipers to add to his talented forward roster.
As for Mercer, this kid will play anywhere you ask him and he’ll probably do it well. he can be the third center behind 86 and 13, or he can get on their wing in a pinch, on the power play, etc. If he was this good at 20, how good will he be in three, or four years when he matures and adds human strength?
“To be honest, I’ve enjoyed playing both positions, I’ve done both pretty much 50-50 for my whole career. I think it’s a great tool that I have, to have that versatility “There are details in my game that I want to work on no matter where they want me to play. Things always change throughout the year, we’ve seen that this season. I want to make sure that I’m better on faceoffs if that opportunity comes up where I play center, I want to make sure I’m prepared for that,” Mercer told Pucks & Pitchforks when we asked him which one he likes or thinks best. that he will play more going forward.
“If I’m a winger the center sometimes gets knocked out, I want to make sure I can win that faceoff as well. I’m pretty comfortable in both places, so wherever they feel it’s preferable for the team to win this match, I will play in this position.
He added that the group that welcomed him and made him feel comfortable – from the start of camp – was a big part of the reason he was able to do so well jumping from the QMJHL to the NHL and making so that everything goes well.
“I feel very comfortable with all the guys here. Dougie was a big help at the start of the year. I sat next to Nico in the locker room and he helped me a lot, and I try to model my game on his,” added Mercer, who will represent Canada at the upcoming World Championships.
“He’s got that 200 foot game and I have a lot of respect for the way he plays. Learning from him and having him feel comfortable enough to talk and help me this season has been great. He’s a good friend of mine. Jack and I are the same age, but he has a few years of experience on me. Our friendship has grown and we are having a great time together. We’re not afraid to talk to each other about our games and how we can really help this team for the future.
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“It was great that I played in the 82s, but nothing is ever guaranteed.”
Devils fans know this very well. As Harvey Dent said, “The night is darkest just before dawn. And I promise you the dawn is coming.