By Tom Hunter (@)
When we did our 2016-17 OHL season preview, the Mississauga Steelheads were the unanimous selection to win the Cental Division. Things haven’t gone according to plan. On December 2nd, the Steelheads sat last in a very weak division and desperately needed a spark to turn the season around.
It looks like that spark has arrived.
In early November, Mississauga made a trade with Kingston for overage forward Spencer Watson. The Los Angeles Kings prospect was acquired knowing that he would be out of the lineup for at least a few more weeks as he recovered from offseason wrist surgery.
Watson, a 2014 seventh round pick of the Kings would have almost certainly spent the season playing for the Ontario Reign in the AHL if not for the injury. What might be seen as a step back in the young forward’s development is nothing but opportunity for the Steelheads.
After acquiring Watson for a package of four draft picks, Mississauga knew they would be getting an impactful player – though I’m not sure they would have imagined he’d be this good.
The Steelheads are currently on a four-game winning streak that started just before Watson made his debut in the lineup. In his three games since returning to game action, Watson as been on fire. He has 6 goals and an assist over the three games -including back to back hat tricks and an overtime winner.
On a Mississauga team that has been desperate for a second scoring line, Spencer Watson is giving them just that.
Of course, no one expects him to keep up a two-goal a game pace. He’s going to slow down – but maybe not as much as some might think. Watson finished last season with 43 goals and 89 points – that puts him third behind only Dylan Strome and Alex Debrincat for points by players currently in the OHL.
Spencer Watson is a pure generator of offence.
He led the OHL with 353 shots on net last season – the next highest total was 270. He shoots the puck and an incredible rate and in the OHL – a league where a .910 sv% is outstanding – that is going to result in a ton of goals.
It’s only been three games and he’s completely new to the Steelheads roster so Watson has been tested with a number of linemates. He has had some ice time with top centre Michael McLeod but his biggest success has come while playing with Nathan Bastian – separated from the high-scoring duo of McLeod and Owen Tippett.
One of two things is going to happen; either he is going to settle on the wing of Michael McLeod – one of the best possession drivers in the OHL – and score a lot of goals, or he’s going to settle on a different line that draws secondary defenders – and score a lot of goals.
For the next few months, Spencer Watson is going to score a lot of goals.
Mississauga is a team that has been criticized for two things this season, scoring depth and goal prevention. Adding Watson to the lineup solves the former. With him in the mix, it would be no surprise to see the Steelheads at the top of their division very quickly.
Don’t misconstrue anything. Being a top player in junior hockey is not the same thing as being a high-end prospect. This is the reason CHL scouts look at prospects differently than those working for NHL teams. A junior front office is looking for guys like Spencer Watson or Tayler Raddysh. Players that have the right skill set to be dominant at the junior level but won’t be a threat to turn pro quickly. They may never be impact NHLers, but that doesn’t stop them from being among the best players in the CHL.
The ability to generate offense in post-draft seasons is great, but should always be taken with a grain of salt – especially while being done as an overager. Watson is an incredible junior hockey player but he still has a lot of work to do on his game before he is considered a high-end NHL prospect.
That’s not to say he won’t get there. As the 209th pick in the draft, Watson is found money for the Kings. Any sort of pro career from him will be a bonus. The hope for Los Angeles is that Watson continues to show that his wrist is healthy with the goal of getting him to the AHL as a legitimate prospect next year.
For this season, the fans in Mississauga are hoping that Watson continues to drastically outperform his draft status in order to lead the Steelheads to the top of the standings – where most expect them to be.
He may never end up as a difference maker in the NHL, but judging by the way he’s started his 2016-17 season, Spencer Watson looks to be doing everything he can to at least get a shot at it. In the meantime, he’ll be providing us OHL fans with something spectacular to watch though the next few months.
— Kathryn Jean (@msconduct) December 11, 2016