If you're looking for a gem from the prep school ranks in the 2020 draft, keep the name Lucas Mercuri in mind. The big center is coming off an excellent season with Salisbury, where the Crimson Knights earned a very interesting distinction this season: they were the last champions of North America.
One day after the Minnesota State High School tournament ended, the New England Prep School circuit held its Elite 8 championship game in Hartford, with the Crimson Knights taking on Dexter. Led by Mercuri (pronounce it like the planet), Salisbury took the trophy with a 4-0 victory. In the following days, every big junior league and the NCAA cancelled its playoffs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"It's crazy, I never really thought about it," Mercuri said. "It's a true privilege and I can't even imagine how I'd feel right now, through the quarantine, if it didn't happen."
Mercuri and the Crimson Knights knew of heartbreak already. Last season, the team also went to the final and took a 3-0 lead on Kimball Union Academy (featuring Edmonton Oilers prospect Tomas Mazura), only to watch the Wildcats storm back and beat them 4-3. So even with a stranglehold on Dexter in this year's final, Mercuri and his boys weren't about to let up.
"We still had that in the backs of our minds," he said. "We were winning 3-0 with a minute left and we were still pushing to the gun. We knew it wasn't over until it was over. I'm glad it happened and we got to lift the trophy. That was the reason I came back, why a lot of our leaders came back: we wanted to win an Elite 8 championship and we did."
Mercuri, who also played a handful of games with the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers this season (and would have played more had the season not been cut off early), brings an impressive array of talents to the table and could be a top-100 pick in the NHL draft this season.
"Big kid, I like the fact he uses his size well," said one NHL team scout. "Finishes his checks, which at the prep school level doesn’t happen too much. Has a good touch around the net. For him it’s the feet and consistency. Good power forward elements to his game."
Committed to the University of Vermont, Mercuri will join a Catamounts team with a brand-new coach next season. Long-time bench boss Kevin Sneddon announced his retirement in February and his replacement was found just recently in former Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Todd Woodcroft.
Mercuri knows he has a big summer ahead of him before heading to college, but the Montreal native isn't afraid to put in the work.
"If I were to choose a focus, it would be skating, given the way the game is going," he said. "Quick feet, agility, foot speed - little things like that to help get to the next level."
A fan of NHLers such as Mark Schiefele, Mikko Rantanen, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan O'Reilly, Mercuri will be a fun name to watch when the draft takes place, simply because there is such a good foundation to build off. He probably won't have the same team success in his first year with Vermont as he did with Salisbury (the Catamounts won just five games this year), but he'll also have that great journey with the Crimson Knights to use as a road map.
"We worked so hard," he said. "So many 5 am workouts, two hours on the ice every day. Prep school doesn't have as many games as the CHL, but it's still a condensed grind. You play every two or three days, so it's like a mini-NHL schedule. The guys were so happy. Winning a championship is the best feeling."