Dawson Mercer is a beauty. There's no other way to put it. On the ice, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens center is a two-way force who has put up points in all four games he has played in so far this season. Off the ice, he's an interviewer's dream and a leader in the dressing room.
So what was it specifically that Chicoutimi liked about the young man when they acquired him from the Drummondville Voltigeurs last season?
"Everything," said Sags coach and GM Yanick Jean. "Everything he does on the ice, off the ice, everything he does as a person leadership-wise, we thought it was going to be really positive for our organization."
Clearly the New Jersey Devils saw much of the same, as the organization snapped up Mercer with the 18th pick overall in the 2020 draft. He was one of three first-rounders for the Devils, sandwiched between sniper Alexander Holtz and D-man Shakir Mukhamadullin.
A proud native of Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, Mercer is one of three kids (his younger brother Riley is also in the QMJHL with Dawson's old team in Drummondville). His dad is a powerline technician and his mom manages a convenience store. Bay Roberts may be a small town of about 11,000, but it was the perfect atmosphere for Mercer.
"It's not too big - we don't have Walmart or Canadian Tire - but we have all the sports and recreation," he said. "You're close to the people there, especially at the rink. You know the familiar faces when you show up; just having good relationships with the Zamboni drivers when I go back in the summertime - I'll speak to them all the time and I think that's a welcoming feeling when you go back to a small town like that."
Mercer has already gone international, however. He was part of Canada's gold-medal world junior squad in 2020 and will be an important returnee for the national team when they try to defend their title on home ice in Edmonton this winter. Back in the 'Q,' he's using every resource available to make sure he continues to grow as a player.
"It's the attention to detail," Jean said. "He has skill, but he doesn't just play with skill. He wants to get better and he works at it. He watches every shift on the iPad when he gets back to the bench."
Indeed, Mercer likes to see why his good plays worked out and, conversely, what he could have done on a bad play if he had more time to think about it. He's a big proponent of nailing down the details in his game and it's probably no surprise that the NHLer he looks up to the most is Boston Bruins icon Patrice Bergeron. Like Bergeron, Mercer wants to be that guy who can be trusted on both the power play and the penalty-kill - a player who uses his hockey IQ in both ends and can win those crucial late-game faceoffs.
In the dressing room, Mercer is proud to take on a leadership role too; just like Bergeron.
"It's being there for everyone, not just yourself," Mercer said. "The guy sitting next you is going to help you just as much as you're going to help him. I want them to feel like that. I'm going to push him to be better and he's going to push me back, it doesn't matter if he's 19 or 16. And in practice, we're going to go 100 percent at each other, play like it's a game situation and have that compete level. In practice I like to push the play and make sure everyone knows there's no slacking off."
Making sure everyone feels like they're a part of the team is also important to Mercer and, once again, that has been a hallmark in Boston during Bergeron's tenure with captain Zdeno Chara.
"In the room, I like to have that voice where everyone feels comfortable and welcome," Mercer said. "You don't want anyone feeling out of place. Making sure everyone is in the full swing of it is a big thing and always having fun: I like when the guys have a smile on their face in practice, even in games and workouts. It pushes you to be better when you're enjoying it. I like to make sure everyone has a good vibe to themself."
Hard to put it any better than that. And with his combination of on-ice skill and off-ice leadership, Mercer's future with the Devils looks incredibly bright already.