Austin Watson, LW Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Born: January 13, 1992 in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Scouting report: Power forward is surprisingly underrated; a two-way, gritty winger with skill who showed off impressive production after rocketing out of Windsor's galaxy of stars (h/t to Red Line Report for that reference) at midseason.
Strengths: Long, live athletic frame with lots of room to grow and fill out. Good skater with excellent straight-line speed and nice lateral agility. Superb shooter with a fast release and a hard, accurate drive. Likes to score goals off the rush, but also crashes the net and picks up the garbage in front. Work ethic and willingness to do anything it takes to win/help his team make him very desireable. Ferocious competitor-- broke his foot/ankle blocking a shot in the CHL Top Prospects, missing about five weeks, but returned to action early in time for the stretch drive. Helped Peterborough make the OHL playoffs with 20 points in 10 games after the injury (and without the help of Ryan Spooner who was also injured)-- as gutsy and inspiring a performance as any. Not overly physical, but will initiate contact and uses his large frame effectively to shield the puck/fight off forecheckers. Has the defensive instincts to be effective in key situations late in close games and on the penalty kill. Plays a disciplined, controlled game-- doesn't take a lot of selfish or bad penalties. Very highly respected player by teammates, coaches and fans alike-- got a huge, rousing ovation from the Windsor crowd when he was introduced at the Top Prospects game even though he'd already been traded away to the rival Petes.
Weaknesses: First few steps are choppy-- needs to work on his change of direction, but are not major flaws and easily correctable with more attention to power skating drills. Creativity is a bit of a question; gets a lot of his points by putting his head down and driving to the net, but may lack the natural instincts to be a major point-getter at the next level. Like most youngsters with a lanky frame, needs to spend a lot of his time in the weight room and then will have to work extra hard to keep the mass on during the season.
Style compares to: Bill Guerin
Draft prediction: If he's there at 15, then the Bruins pounce and walk away with two premium talents up front from the OHL. Everything this kid is screams the Boston Bruins, and in time, he could form a very interesting physical, power punch up front on the wing with Jordan Caron and possibly Tyler Seguin or Joe Colborne in the middle. Watson's size and skill make him a very appealing player, and he has all the attributes that the Bruins covet in their forwards. Other options for the Bruins at 15 include hard-nosed defenseman Dylan McIlrath, Emerson Etem, defenseman Mark Pysyk, Nick Bjugstad and if you're thinking of an intriguing off-the-board pick skilled defenseman Justin Faulk wouldn't be a bad value here. He's been the forgotten man on what was a Rock of Gibraltar corps of defensemen on the U.S. NTDP this year, but he's highly skilled even if he lacks the size of a Derek Forbort or the sheer toughness of Jarred Tinordi. He is undersized, though, and that works against him from a purely Boston standpoint and their current makeup on defense. I also like California sniper Beau Bennett, but admittedly, 15 is probably five picks too early for the speedy and skilled scorer, who lit it up for Penticton (BCHL) this season and will join Jason Zucker in Denver's incoming freshman hockey class in the fall..
Projection: Watson has top-six power forward potential and 30-goal upside at the NHL level, but may end up being more of a third-line/energy-grinder and special teamer. He's got the size and skill, but it remains to be seen whether some of the questions about his offensive instincts will prove to hinder him at the highest level. That said, he's a high-reward kind of player because he brings so many positive attributes to the ice with him. His torrid run of 20 points in 10 games returning early from his broken ankle is the biggest indicator of the fire that burns inside this guy.
Background: The oldest of 9 (soon to be 10) children: eight boys, one girl. Committed to hockey; family move to Florida when Austin was 12 and so he stayed in Michigan to live with his grandparents. Had a no-trade clause in his deal with Windsor, but OK'd the trade to Peterborough; further proof of his character and competitiveness. As a result, he gave up another shot at the Memorial Cup (he was on the '09 champion Spitfires club) for the challenge of skating for a lesser team and more playing time. In Windsor, skated mostly with Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Greg Nemisz; in Peterborough with top 2011 prospect and '10 CHL rookie of the year Matt Puempel and Patrick Daley. One of two non-NTDP players (Connor Brickley) named to the U.S. Under-18 Team that won gold in Belarus in April. Favorite NHL team growing up: Detroit Red Wings Favorite NHL player: Johan Franzen
"Austin is a very good penalty killer. He plays a high-energy two-way game. He's aggressive on the forecheck and he will finish his checks. He has good hands and can shoot the puck hard. He is an excellent competitor and is a good shot blocker. I like his energy and willingness to play a role and be good at that role. He is an excellent penalty killer and defensive player, but he has also shown good offensive puck skill and some playmaking ability."- Central Scouting's Chris Edwards to NHL.com; March, 2010
“Austin is a big power forward that protects the puck very well all over the ice. He is a great shot blocker and penalty kill specialist. Austin also exhibits a great net front presence on the power-play and even strength and has a very good stick allowing him to create goals and scoring chances off redirections and tips. He also displays good leadership qualities for such a young player.”- (former) Peterborough Petes head coach Ken McRae to NHL.com
"I had to weigh the option of staying in Windsor, be on another Memorial Cup team, hopefully make a run for that, but at the same time, it is about me a little bit. I had to think, going into Peterborough I'm going to play more and the scouts are going to get to see more of me. Instead of coming to the rink to see me, Taylor (Hall) and Cam (Fowler), you get lost in the crowd with top-end guys like that. For me, going to Peterborough is a good opportunity for them to see more of what I can do."- Austin Watson to NHL.com; March, 2010
"He's a great kid. Big, skilled, tough, hard-working. He's interesting because he's got a lot of fine physical attributes, but he's also got the intangibles to go along with the talent, so you're looking at a guy who could end up being a legitimate top-six forward at the NHL level some day."- NHL scout to New England Hockey Journal; June, 2010
"I'm a big body and like to get down low and be physical and create space for other guys and get to the front of the net and put pucks in the net. But also I do a lot of little things right. I kill penalties. I take pride in that. I take pride in blocking shots and doing little things, dumping the puck and getting things going. I try to be a leader all the time when I'm out there and that's kind of the things I think that set me apart."- Austin Watson to NHL.com
"I don't even know where I had the idea to stay (in Michigan). My dad had gone down there probably a month before the rest of the family went. He called me and said, we are going to be moving the family to Florida, we have a job opportunity here, nothings going on in Michigan and what do you want to do.I flat out told him, ‘I'm staying’. He said, well, it's your decision. I couldn't believe being a 12 year old kid, your parents leave you that control, but they have always been behind me in that. So I decided to stay and I lived with my grandparents for four years until I was 16 and drafted to Windsor and my parents ended up moving back that summer. "- Austin Watson to NHL.com
Trade to Peterborough has Watson in Spotlight