(Newark, New Jersey) It’s with a “Hello, how are you?” » that our interlocutor welcomes us in the press room of the Prudential Center, Wednesday noon, on the eve of the Canadian-Devils duel.
Posted at 5:45 p.m.
It is Dawson Mercer who addresses us in this way. The rest of the interview with the surprising Devils rookie will be in English, but these few words of French are a reminder of his former life in Lennoxville, Drummondville and Saguenay. This Newfoundlander left his island at the age of 14 to pursue his development, first at Bishop’s College, then in the QMJHL.
Half of his stay in Quebec, he spent with Denis Gauthier, then special adviser to the Voltigeurs de Drummondville.
“It was more our children who practiced their English by speaking with him. Anyway, my guys wouldn’t have shown him what we wanted them to show him in French! “laughs Gauthier, on the phone.
“And when he had trouble with his school work in French, it was my daughter who helped him! adds Stéphanie, Gauthier’s spouse.
“It was cool for my kids, for us too. It was the perfect fit, hockey guys who stood together, continues Gauthier. Dawson is a super good example for my children. They have become friends, they text each other. He was as fine with my boys as he was with my daughter, he was interested in everything. He came to see their sports, he asked them how they were doing at school. »
The young man is certainly grateful for his years spent with the Gauthiers. “Denis and his family have been good to me. I arrived at 15 years old. It’s like my second family. I talk to his guys all the time. At the arena, we talked about hockey, and home was home. »
The fast lane
The growth of young people is in a way a balm on a season to forget at the Canadian. The same goes for men in red and black, as Jeanne Mas sang.
The Devils’ top five scorers are 23 or younger. If the first overall picks Nico Hischier (2017) and Jack Hughes (2019) were expected among the best, it was not so obvious for Mercer.
Drafted at 18and rank in 2020, Mercer has always had interesting potential. However, not all the picks of his rank go directly from junior hockey to the NHL, as he did, without stopping in the American League.
Dawson Mercer’s record in 70 games in 2021-22 (rank among NHL rookies)
- Goals: 16 (5and)
- Assists: 24 (7and)
- Points: 40 (5and)
- Operating time: 16 min 34 s (3and among the attackers)
Mercer is thus rewarded for his audacity, because leaving home at 14 is nothing trivial. Such is life in Newfoundland…
“You’re at home, with your friends, and you’re heading into the unknown,” he says. It’s not like my parents can come and see me by car. Even if it had been a seven-hour drive… No, they had to fly, sleep in a hotel, and it was complicated.
“I remember a discussion with my father and my cousin where I realized that if I wanted to play in the NHL, I had to leave. My father told me: “If you don’t like it, stay a month and you’ll come back.” But I never regretted. I made new friends, and when I returned home, I still had my old friends. It was a win-win! »
From Bishop’s College, he could have continued his journey to American universities, but his priority was to reach the NHL as soon as possible.
“I wanted to play at the top level, and at this stage of my career it was junior. I knew I would play at 16 in the QMJHL and that would help me reach my end goal. I have no regrets. I continued to go to school all the same, and this year is also the first year that I am not going to school. It was a good decision. »
In fact, the only blemish on his record is face-offs, where his 35.1% success rate puts him in 100and rank, out of 101, in the NHL (minimum 500 face-offs).
“He has to get stronger,” concedes Devils head coach Lindy Ruff, before grumbling.
“In this league, rookies don’t have as many face-off chances as veterans. Dawson always gets told to put his stick on the ice, he gets kicked out of the circle. Take Patrice Bergeron. I think he has a bigger bank account with the referees. But Dawson is also going to get to know guys, know when to use his feet or his stick. Very few rookies came in and were good immediately. »
But for the rest, the comments are glowing. “He has a very positive impact, on the wing or in the center, rejoices Ruff. He’s always been reliable defensively, but I’m surprised at what he gives us offensively. It’s like a gift. »
“Hockey sense comes out of his ears,” adds Gauthier. We thought his skating would need to be worked on in the NHL, but we realize that he reads the game so quickly, it doesn’t bother us.
“I’ve always said I had no idea what his ceiling is. Even when he was 17 or 18, I had a hard time responding to recruiters. »
If what we see of Mercer at 20 is his bottom, might as well look up.