Talk about riding a high. Ever since showing off his strong chemistry with Alex Holtz in the rookie tournament in Buffalo, few prospects around the league have had as good of a run as Newfoundland's Dawson Mercer.
The 19-year-old has two goals and three points in as many games for the Devils and continues to impress in other facets of his game. Obviously, there have been some curveballs thrown his way - he hasn't particularly been outstanding at 5-on-5 Corsi - but Mercer looks like a smart kid that's ready for a shot to start the season.
In fact, from an overall standpoint, Mercer has been one of the most noticeable players for the Devils in pre-season action. In Holtz's case, his shot at making the NHL was a bit more likely. But that wasn't the case for Mercer, who most expected to start the season in the AHL with Utica before eventually cracking the big club next year.
But could you really keep Mercer off of the opening night lineup right now?
"He's playing well," Devils coach Lindy Ruff said on Friday. "He's been a real good surprise for me and everybody who watches him play. He has a lot of fun playing the game. He's got good energy, he understands where to be defensively. He competes hard."
It's Mercer's brain that has kept him in the NHL conversation at this point. Since his pre-junior days, his ability to find passes and get the puck where it needs to be has always seemed above the norm for his age group. Mercer especially showed that at the World Junior Championship over the winter, and while four of his six points came against Germany in a 16-2 win, it wasn't for a lack of effort in the rest of the games. He simply was seeing the ice as good as you'd hope for.
Mercer has shown he has no issue finding offense, but he's a strong skater that can get back quickly and contribute in his own zone. But other players have mentioned that Mercer loves to learn and grow the aspects of his game that can him a better player, and they appreciate that.
“He really cares," defenseman Dougie Hamilton told the media on Friday. "I love guys that really care about hockey and want to get better, I gravitate toward them. He’ll be my teammate for a long time to come.”
Mercer isn't a lock for an NHL shot by any means, and if he starts the season in the bottom-six, it probably won't last long, either. Mercer is versatile - he can play down the middle and on the wing effectively - and that gives the Devils some options. New Jersey should make a boost up the standings this season, but they're still working on the future, and Mercer is a big part of that. There is no reason to rush him if management doesn't feel he's fully ready for the challenge, but it's hard to keep him out of play at this point, right?
Regardless of what happens, the fact that Regardless of what happens, New Jersey's value in the first round of the 2020 draft - Holtz, Mercer and defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin - is starting to pay off. Mercer was highly regarded heading into the draft selection for his overall ability to do so many things right.
It won't be long until Devils fans witness that on a weekly basis.