Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Today at #19 is Spencer Watson.
Age: 22 (April 25, 1996)
2017-18 Team: Ontario Reign (AHL); Manchester Monarchs (ECHL)
2017-18 Statistics: AHL: 11 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 P; ECHL: 48 GP, 25 G, 20 A, 45 P (Playoffs: 7 GP, 0 G, 3 A)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 16
Jewels Staff Ranking: 21
Last Year’s Ranking: 7
In every ranking, over time, positioning shifts. That’s just the nature of the beast — players who have potential are unable to rise to the expectations, unknown names rise up to show their worth, development stalls or shoots forward. I don’t think it’s particularly much of a spoiler for players one through 18 on this list to say that perhaps no one else experienced so much of a dramatic drop in standings as Spencer Watson.
As a seventh round draft pick, the likelihood of Watson making the NHL is slim at best. From the 2014 draft, Watson’s selection year, of the 30 players selected in the seventh round, 17 have played professionaly in North America for a combined 1556 professional games, with 941 at the AHL level, 506 at the ECHL level, and 119 at the NHL level. Those 119 games all belong to Anaheim’s Ondrej Kase, who spent limited time with the San Diego Gulls before being promoted.
So Spencer Watson’s career path to date — struggling to catch on in the AHL, but probably not challenged by the ECHL — isn’t much of a surprise, statistically speaking. Granted, few of those players have the point-per-game pedigree of Watson over the course of his OHL career. He battled several injuries during his time in juniors and even when limited in number of games, he still managed to put up points.
Watson comes to professional hockey with the ability to score, no doubt. But it’s his limited production at the AHL level that’s shaken the faith in the undersized scoring winger. 436 rookies played in the AHL during the regular season; 234 scored three points or more. So perhaps the fact that another 202 players, including Watson, put up two or fewer points, is a source of hope. (Let’s not ponder how many of those were goalies.) (The answer appears to be 39.)
Watson isn’t alone in getting limited ice time at the professional level, struggling to figure out how to translate his game and his size to a league where physicality often dominates, and where he’s playing with far less skilled linemates than players like Lawson Crouse or Sam Bennett, with whom he spent much of his juniors career.
He did manage to figure out the ECHL, though, playing at a nearly point-per-game rate while in Manchester. His 45 points in 48 games was good for 14th in all ECHL rookie scoring. The 13 players ahead of him on the list played an average of 61 games, so imagine the damage Watson could have done on the scoresheet with a full season of ECHL hockey under his belt. And he was third in scoring on the Monarchs, again behind two players with far more games than he saw the ice for.
Spencer Watson talking about his hat-trick tonight and the “catchup” mentality pic.twitter.com/90ouTMUtKT— Manchester Monarchs (@MonarchsHockey) February 3, 2018
Of course, “great in the ECHL” isn’t what we hope to see from a prospect who’s cracked the top 10 of this list in two of his previous four years of eligibility. Per Capfriendly, Watson is an RFA after this year, and a strong season in Ontario could earn him another contract to play an AHL depth role. The door isn’t shut on Watson’s NHL dreams, but he’s going to need to prove that he can contribute in a meaningful way at the AHL level this year if he wants to keep chasing after the career jackpot.