Patrice Bergeron is one of the most complete centres in the NHL and someone every NHL team would love to have on its roster. Dawson Mercer wants to be the next Bergeron, and some scouts think he can do it.
Mercer took big strides in the QMJHL this season, both in his on-ice production and big-game experience. Now, the Newfoundlander is ready to bring his scoring touch and high hockey IQ to the next level.
Here’s everything you need to know about the next hockey star from The Rock.
Age: 18 (Oct. 27, 2001)
Weight: 179 pounds
Current team: Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
Never takes a shift off
Mercer finished the season with 24 goals and 60 points in only 42 games -- due to Team Canada commitments and a late-season injury -- but he’s much more than just an offensive player. The 18-year-old can fill any role on his team, whether it be centre or right wing, and on the power play or penalty kill.
He credits his high hockey IQ and strong work ethic for allowing him to play that way. He can be the first player on the forecheck, wearing opponents down or he can create offence from the top of the circle with his hard shot and quick hands, depending on what his team needs.
In the first half of the season, as a member of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Mercer was a top-line scorer on a rebuilding team. But after a trade to the championship-chasing Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Mercer joined stars like Raphaël Lavoie, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Félix Bibeau and was no longer relied on for his offence. While his production went down with the Saguenéens, he still found other ways to contribute by winning faceoffs and killing penalties.
"I've got a motor that I like to keep going," Mercer said in an interview with NHL.com. "I don't like to give anything up or give up on a play. I want to be at my best in all three zones. When you keep going to higher levels, there's only a little difference between each player and you want to be on the right side of that. I feel like these little qualities I have will give me the extra boost, whether it's having a positive attitude, giving 100 per cent and not taking a shift off, being hard on your checks. All those little things matter and I take pride in doing those things well."
Models his game after Patrice Bergeron
As an average-sized right-shot centre, Mercer idolizes Bergeron and his ability to fill whatever role his team needs.
“He’s the type of guy that I’m sure every player would like to be like,” Mercer said on the BTS Hockey podcast.
NHL Central Scouting’s J-F Damphousse compared Mercer to Bergeron in an interview with the NHL Draft Class podcast, citing his reliability in all zones as the reasons.
“I really like Dawson’s game. He’s a true competitor, he’s passionate, he loves playing the game,” Damphousse said. “I don’t like comparing players but if I had to compare I think he could become a little bit like Patrice Bergeron. Someone that can bring a lot of offence but is also reliable in his own zone, winning faceoffs, battling down low for loose pucks.”
A magnetic personality
Mercer has shown this season that he can be a leader on his team and in the community. He was an assistant captain with the Voltigeurs and on Team Red at the CHL Top Prospects game and also a finalist for the QMJHL’s Personality of the Year award, which goes to “a player who had a positive media impact and helped improve the league’s image throughout the 2019-2020 season.”
Mercer had a busy year, playing games for two QMJHL teams as well as in the CHL Canada-Russia series, the World Juniors and the CHL Top Prospects game. But his coaches say he had no problem adjusting to any of his new situations.
"He jelled with the guys right away when he arrived," Chicoutimi coach Yanick Jean told NHL.com. "He has a magnetic personality. Everybody likes to hang out with that kind of person. It is huge having a guy like him, for a coach. When you have a player who plays both ways like he does, when you can generate offence like he does, he plays extremely well on both special-teams units, as good on the wing as he does at centre, it's huge for our team."
With the NHL scouting combine cancelled, Mercer has been meeting with teams over video instead and making the most of the situation.
“Whether it’s FaceTime or Zoom, NHL teams are still getting a good insight into who I am,” he said in an interview with The Telegram. “I’m well-spoken and able to communicate with others, and I think that shows the qualities of maturity and leadership, on the ice and off the ice.”
From NL to the NHL
Mercer is proud of being from Newfoundland and is honoured to represent his province on the hockey stage.
He could be just the seventh player from Newfoundland selected in the first round of the NHL Draft and only 27 players from The Rock have skated in the NHL, the fewest of any Canadian province.
“I’m from a small town, Bay Roberts, just 7,000 people about. A small town (where) you’re very close with the community and my family and I’m proud to be from there,” Mercer said in an interview with Sportsnet earlier this season. “It’s a special moment for me to be one of the few Nefoundlanders away from the island playing and having an opportunity in the QMJHL.”
Newfoundlanders taken in first round of NHL Draft
Mercer grew up in a hockey-loving family. His brother, Riley, is a goalie who was selected by Drummondville in the QMJHL draft earlier this summer, while his sister Jessica plays triple-A bantam hockey in Newfoundland.
It’s clear from listening to him speak that hockey is more than just a job for him. It’s everything.
"We’ve been growing up and living it our whole life. It was something we were never forced to do but we just loved it," he said on the BTS Hockey podcast. "We like to go put in the work and have fun because work and hockey don’t feel like actual work. It’s work that we love to do."
When Mercer was 15 he moved away from home to Bishop’s College private school in Quebec to increase his level of competition and he's been playing in that province for four seasons now. But during the pandemic, he’s gotten to spend an extended amount of time at home, where he’s using a Bowflex machine and a pair of Rollerblades to stay in shape.
Even though his season ended early and he can’t get on ice right now, his focus hasn’t wavered. He wants to get bigger and stronger so that he can challenge for an NHL roster spot next season.
"It is what it is. I can’t change it at all," he told the Journal Pioneer. "You have to look at the positive side and one way of doing that is to realize I have a lot more time to get ready for the draft and what comes after that.
"For me, that’s working at getting stronger, getting even quicker. I want to be able to show up to my first NHL (training) camp being ready to play with these older, more experienced players. So I want to use this time wisely, and not worry about what I know isn’t going to happen this year, which is the playoffs, and concentrate on what I know is coming and that’s the draft and next season."