Trade to Peterborough has Watson in spotlight
That was the issue facing Austin Watson earlier this season -- stay with the Windsor Spitfires, defending Ontario Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion -- and among the favorites to repeat as both -- or accept a trade to the Peterborough Petes that would allow him to move from complementary part to starring role.
Watson, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, OK'd the deal and went to Peterborough, picking playing time over possible championships. For a player considered a top prospect for the 2010 Entry Draft, putting his self-interests first was the right decision.
"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," Watson told NHL.com. "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."
The move has worked almost perfectly. He played three games with the Petes, but then broke his ankle blocking a shot during the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January. Coach Ken McRae originally thought the best scenario was getting Watson back in time for the playoffs. Instead, the 6-foot-3 1/4, 185-pound right wing a month later and is making up for lost time.
"He came back a little early," McRae told NHL.com. "We were happy to get him back sooner than later. Our team went into a deep tailspin, so it was good to get him back."
In 10 games with the Petes, he has 9 goals and 20 points. He was named Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week last week for totaling 5 goals and 9 points in three games.
He's done it while centering the Petes' top line, skating between Matt Puempel and Patrick Daley.
"We're using him at center and he's a big, strong force in the middle," said McRae. "He played center a little bit in Windsor, he was playing center and right wing. He's versatile; you can use him at center or on the wing. He's centering our No. 1 line right now and doing a solid job."
For the season, Watson has 20 goals and 54 points in 52 games. He had 34 points in 42 games with Windsor prior to the trade.
McRae said Watson hasn't changed his style of play at all, as he's continued to play on the penalty kill and block shots at the same high level he did before the injury.
"He took one in his first game back," said McRae. "He's not shying away. It's something in the back of his mind, but he's putting his body in front of pucks and sacrificing his body. That's one of this strengths, to get in front of shots and read the play off the penalty kill."
Blocking shots is just one of the things Watson does well. He also is a highly talented offensive player, with 19 goals -- including 7 power-play goals -- and 48 points in 51 games. It's what earned him the No. 25 spot on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of North American skaters for June's draft, and earned him an invitation to the Top Prospects Game.
"Austin is a very good penalty killer," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, who scouts the OHL, told NHL.com. "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."
With Peterborough, he's getting the chance to showcase all those skills.
"In Windsor I played, but with Taylor Hall and (Flames first-round pick) Greg Nemisz and (Devils prospect) Adam Henrique, it's their show, they've been here for a while," Watson said. "For me, going to Peterborough I have an opportunity to go there and play first power play and play penalty kill, play more minutes and really showcase what I can do more over what I can do in Windsor."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.