TORONTO – Lawson Crouse’s cheat foods are ice cream bars and popsicles, which is all too appropriate considering that he’ll be moving to the desert.
The Florida Panthers traded the 19-year-old Kingston Frontenacs star, as well as financial albatross Dave Bolland, Thursday to the Arizona Coyotes for a 2017 third-round draft pick and either Arizona’s 2018 second-rounder or an additional 2017 third-rounder.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Crouse is the price Florida had to pay in order to shed the $16.5 million remaining on injured and underwhelming Bolland’s contract, which expires in 2019.
Crouse found out about the trade early Thursday morning en route to participate in the BioSteel Cup at St. Michael’s Arena in Toronto when Florida’s new GM, Tom Rowe, called him.
“I was a little bit surprised. It kinda caught me off guard. The way I look at it, it’s a new opportunity to go into a new organization and show my talent. Show them what I’m made of,” said Crouse, who had never been traded before.
“A lot of things were going through my mind at the time, but now that I’ve had the past couple hours to reflect on it, I’m in a really good spot.”
Fellow Toronto-based Coyotes Max Domi and Dylan Strome, a training partner of Crouse’s all summer long, were all smiles upon learning the news.
“We have that connection, which is nice,” said Crouse, who won a gold medal alongside Domi and the Coyotes’ Anthony Duclair at the 2015 world junior tournament. “It’s nice to go to an organization where I know a lot of the guys.”
When Crouse arrived at BioSteel camp this morning, he was swarmed with high fives, hugs and handshakes.
“It’s really exciting,” said Domi, beaming. “He’s an unbelievable hockey player and an even better guy. It’s great for our group.”
Crouse said he has yet to look at the Coyotes full roster, but it’s a good bet he’ll have a better chance to crack that lineup than Florida’s.
“He’s a big, physical, power forward who is a strong skater with good hands. Players of his calibre and profile are extremely hard to find,” Coyotes GM John Chayka said.
Using cap space as a bargaining chip, Chayka has taken on the bad contracts of both Bolland and KHL-bound Pavel Datsyuk (to go along with Chris Pronger) while craftily bolstering the club’s prospect pool.
“It’s a good young core of guys,” Strome said. “It’s nice to have a guy joining you that you already know. He’s outgoing and funny. He’s a loud guy, always in a lot of conversations. A really open guy who will fit in great there.”
Crouse put up 23 goals, 39 assists a plus-13 rating in 49 games with Kingston last season, then piled up 11 more points in nine playoff contests.
“He can fly. He’s fast and he hits and he scores goals. You kinda get the total package,” Strome said.
When Crouse was drafted by the Panthers, then-GM Dale Tallon raved about the Mt. Brydges, Ont., native, believing the club got a steal when the highest-ranked North American winger in the 2015 draft fell to him at No. 11 overall.
“We didn’t think we were going to Lawson, to tell you the truth. Another big, strong horse for us,” Tallon said at the time. “It’s a perfect fit for us.”
Crouse’s trade arrives after the management shift in Florida. The player declined comment on if the front office shift may have led to his being dealt away. He said he hasn’t had a chance to speak with Tallon yet.
“Today’s transaction creates significant cap space for us in each of the next three NHL seasons, while simultaneously giving us the ability to add more good, young players to a farm system we know we need to improve,” Rowe said.
“Steve Werier and Eric Joyce have been working the phones with Arizona for the past few weeks and came to Dale and I late last night with what they felt was a fair return for the cap, contract space and picks we received.
“We plan to use this cap space to continue to aggressively build on the steps we took this summer to construct a championship-calibre roster here in South Florida today and well into the future.”
Two days ago, Crouse told Sportsnet he’d been following the Panthers’ off-season shakeup closely. He liked that they appeared serious about building a Cup contender and said he was determined to make the team this October.
He’s been working out intensely and, save for the odd ice cream sandwich, has been monitoring his nutrition more than ever this summer under Matt Nichols. (“I’m a pretty strong guy, but you can never be too strong,” he smiled.)
The Sunbelt sweater will switch, but Crouse’s approach will not.
“I’m not mad at all. I’m very happy and very excited for the opportunity,” he said Thursday.
“My attitude is not going to change. I’m going to go in there [to Arizona] and make it hard for them to send me home.
“I’m a battler. I look to get better every day. I’m going to do whatever I can to make that team.”