Austin Watson faced a tough dilemma at a young age: Should he
stay on a championship-caliber team and play very few minutes every night? Or should he go to a border-line playoff team and play on their first line?
Fortunately for Watson, it was not completely up to him, as he waived his no-trade clause and was traded earlier this season from the reigning Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires to the Peterborough Petes.
Watson, a 6'3", 187 pound right winger from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was verbally committed to play in the NCAA, so his OHL draft stock plummeted (he was originally slated to go number two overall). However, the Windsor Spitfires took a chance on him in the second round of the draft and Watson wound up playing in the Canadian Hockey League.
In his rookie season, Watson put up just 29 points in 63 games with the Spitfires, but his scoring increased in season two to 34 points in 42 games. However, after he was traded to the Petes, Watson took off, scoring 20 points in just ten games on his new team. This domination helped shoot him up Central Scouting’s rankings to number 14.
Watson, who had a no-trade clause in Windsor, had to decide whether it was smart or not to waive his clause when the Spitfires requested so.
"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 said in an NHL.com interview. "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."
Peterborough coach Ken McRae enjoys Watson for his defensive play as well.
"He's not shying away,” McRae said to NHL.com. “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 his strengths, to get in front of shots and read the play off the penalty kill."
"Austin is a very good penalty killer," one scout said to 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."
Watson has played with some high-end talent over the years, but now, it’s his turn to shine.
"In Windsor I played, but with Taylor Hall and Greg Nemisz and 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."
Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News, he has also worked for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College hockey team as well. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com.