LA Kings Top 25 Under 25: #20(t) - Spencer Watson

It might be surprising to see Spencer Watson this high. After all, he was the 209th pick of the 2014 NHL draft, and he's making this list while the majority of LA's most recent draft class - including the 60th (Lintuniemi) and 90th (Amadio) selections - did not. Watson is also 5'9" and 170 pounds. Making the NHL will not be easy at that size.

Rank Player DOB Nationality Draft Vote Total Last Year
21(t) Spencer Watson 4/25/1996 CAN 209 (7th) 71 NR

(Regarding the vote total: please remember that there were 14 voters, ranking from 25 to 1. Thus, the maximum possible vote total was 350.)

The reason why Watson got this ranking, despite being a late-round selection without much size, is that his OHL stats are fantastic. They are the stats of a first round pick. His 68 points in 65 OHL games is good, if not great - but then consider that Watson did this mostly at even strength, with less ice time than other top players. He scored 55 5v5 points, at a rate of 3.4 points/60 - that is 4th among all draft-eligible CHL forwards. 4th! That's astonishing. That's better than Ehlers (3.2), better than Ho-Sang (3.0), better than Draisaitl (2.9), better than, well, all but 3 guys.

Now, Watson did have the good fortune to play on a line with 4th overall pick Sam Bennett, who himself managed 3.5 EV points/60. So can we discount Watson's gaudy numbers as a product of his awesome linemate? Well, yes and no.

There's no doubt that Bennett helped Watson, but we don't know to what degree. One thing we can look at is IPP - what % of EV on-ice goals for a player records a point on. If one linemate is dominating while the other guys are just sort of along for the ride, the guy who's really driving the scoring will tend to have a higher IPP (or sometimes guys with high IPPs are just lucky. That happens too.) The effect is big when stars play with non-stars. Over the past 2 seasons Sidney Crosby has an IPP of 80% while constant linemate Chris Kunitz has an IPP of 67%. When the Sedins played with Alex Burrows the Sedins would put up IPPs around 75-80% and Burrows would usually be around 65-70%. You get the picture.

Last year, Bennett had an IPP of 73.7% while Watson was at 72.4%. I'd still bet Bennett was more responsible for the line's success - the scouts certainly think so (after all, Bennett was the 4th pick while Watson the 209th), and that carries a lot of weight with me. Given the choice between the two of them, I (and everyone else) would take Bennett in a heartbeat. But the almost identical IPPs are a little bit of evidence that Watson was not just a passenger on the line, but part of the reason the two had such success together. It suggests Watson's scoring numbers might be mostly real, and if so, he's a complete steal at pick 209. For more on IPP and 2014 draftees see here.

Watson's scouting report fits his stats. He is described as a creative, offensively skilled sniper. His excellent skating and hard shot are particularly praised. Several reports comment on his elusiveness and ability to find the space to release his wrist shot in traffic. The common criticism is, of course, a lack of strength.

The thing about the Top 25 Under 25 is that the Kings don't have the deepest system in the NHL. Realistically, below spot 15 or so it's pretty unlikely these guys are going to do much of anything in the NHL. That goes for Watson, too - there's a high chance he never gets there. But his scouting report and especially his stats suggest he has real offensive gifts, and the chance to be a top-six forward in the NHL. That's rare for a seventh-round pick, and as I see it it's much better to have a 15% chance at a skilled top-six forward than a 30% chance at a no-offense bottom-six grinder. That's why we're giving Watson a spot in the top 25.

So good on the Kings for an excellent late-round selection. Watson will return to the Kingston Frontenacs in 2014-15, only he'll possibly play without Sam Bennett (who might make the Flames roster). If so, we'll learn a lot more next year.