There are high expectations for 20-year-old players in major junior hockey. Teams are only allowed three, which considerably whittles down a pool of players selected for a transitional season sandwiched between the late teenage years and the more clearly defined hockey-as-a-profession leap that the most qualified are able to take. Those “20’s” are expected to reach important levels of productivity while establishing a bar of accountability and leadership that can later be replicated by the next crop of 20-year-olds, and Spencer Watson did just that.

Watson, who was only returned to the AHL because wrist surgery the off-season prior delayed his entrance to the professional game by a year, posted 28 goals in 41 regular season games with the Mississauga Steelheads, who had lost nine in a row and sat in last place in the conference in early December but ended the year on a 28-7-3-4 tear that coincided with the Kings prospect’s return to health in the late fall after a November trade from Kingston. That stretch, which catapulted the Steelheads to the top of the Central Division and past Ottawa, Oshawa and Peterborough in the playoffs, culminated in a five-game loss to Erie in the OHL Championship. In those 20 playoff games, Watson tied for the league lead with 15 goals – mirroring the postseason success forged by leading WHL goal scorer and fellow Kings prospect Austin Wagner – and emerged as a dynamic threat every time he took the ice.

He does this as a 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward who isn’t among the league’s fastest skaters but someone gifted with superior offensive awareness and the willingness to position himself in tough areas on the ice.

“I think 10 years ago, that might’ve been a brick wall for him,” said James Richmond, Watson’s coach in Mississauga and a former member of the Kings’ development team. “But then we’ve seen in the last five, six years the smaller players knocking down those barriers again, which is nice to see because they’ve got an innate ability to make good things happen on the ice, and that’s what Spencer does. Yeah, he’s 5-foot-10, but he’s really tough to knock off the puck. He’s got a great balance on his feet, so he’s able to make the hockey plays. It’s one thing to be big and heavy. But you’ve got to be able to make plays, and this kid can make plays and helps the team win hockey games all the time.”

His contributions to Mississauga’s worst-to-first run capped off a 274-game OHL career in which he totaled 147 goals and 301 points. The consistency to which he both made and finished plays adds to the intrigue of a player who was chosen with the second-to-last pick of the 2014 draft but has done nothing but score at the major junior level.