Courtesy – Ottawa Citizen, Ken Warren.
NEWARK, N.J. — A big fight raised Curtis Lazar’s stock in the eyes of National Hockey League scouts. A bad flight delayed his arrival here for the biggest day of his life.
Yet when the Ottawa Senators chose the 18-year-old Edmonton Oil Kings centre with their 17th overall selection at Sunday’s NHL entry draft, the first thing Lazar thought about was all the people who helped him along the way to his big moment at the Prudential Center.
“Absolute shock,” said Lazar, speaking a mile a minute when asked about the reaction to hearing his name called by Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray. “There’s no other way to put it. You forget to breathe, it’s so exciting. You get up to the stage and you think about all the people that helped you get to this point. And then, before you know it, it’s over.”
The Senators were surprised Lazar, a native of Salmon Arm, British Columbia, was available. Lazar, 5-11 and 193 pounds, scored 38 goals and 23 assists with Edmonton during the 2012-13 season and scouts rave about his shot, competitiveness and ability to find open spaces on the ice. He scored nine goals and two assists in 22 playoff games with the Oil Kings.
While he has had some bouts of inconsistency, Lazar made a mark when he fought Darnell Nurse – selected seventh overall by the Edmonton Oilers Sunday – in the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects game.
“I wanted to leave an impression, but I didn’t know what it would be,” said Lazar, who claimed every team he talked to during interviews mentioned the dust-up. “It’s kind of a funny story. During the morning of the pre-game skate, he was looking for someone to fight and then I saw the way things were going during the game and it was time to do something. Darnell is a good friend of mine, but if I have to step up for my teammates, I will do it. I’m not the biggest guy by any means, but it shows I will do anything to win.”
Heading into the draft, The Hockey News had Lazar rated ninth overall. The International Scouting Service rated him 12th.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray says Lazar’s determination stood out.
“We had him rated as a good player, very competitive, a point getter, a guy who fits in with real character and the effort he puts in every night tells us that he has a chance to be a very good pro,” Murray said.
Senators scout George Fargher says Lazar has the potential to develop into a player like New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.
“He’s a great character kid, a real solid player, we hope he can be a second line guy,” said Fargher. “He’s a gritty player, a two-way guy (sound offensively and defensively), who can score goals and (perhaps) be a potential leader on the team in the later years.”
Lazar has never been to Ottawa before and he’s excited to get rolling at the Senators development camp next week.
He had also never been to the New York City/New Jersey area before and he might have wondered whether he would ever get here.
Lazar flew from the west to Toronto on Thursday and boarded a connecting flight to New York Thursday evening. Due to weather issues, however, the flight circled New York twice before heading back to Toronto. He eventually made it here late Friday, trying to take in all the sights and sounds without getting too anxious about what was about to come.
He’s pumped about the challenge and pressure of eventually playing in a Canadian city.
Lazar, who was surrounded by his parents, his girlfriend, his two brothers and sister, and an aunt and an uncle, isn’t overly familiar with the Senators lineup.
Except, that is, for captain Daniel Alfredsson.
“It’s great he’s coming back,” said Lazar.
Lazar isn’t getting ahead of himself and wants to see where he stands alongside pro players before suggesting whether he could make the unlikely jump to the NHL for the 2013-14 season.
“The draft year is behind us now, I can get on with my career, get some guidance from the organization,” he said. “I haven’t played with pro guys, but I want to be there (in the NHL) as soon as I can. My goal is to make it as difficult as I can for them to send me back to junior.”
More on Curtis, from Hockey’s Future:
2010-11: Curtis Lazar, the second player taken in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, appeared in ten games for the Edmonton Oil Kings, including four playoff contests. He spent most of the season playing for the Okanagan Hockey Academy and won a gold medal with Team British Columbia at the Canada Winter Games. He broke the tournament goal scoring record previously set by Steven Stamkos (12) and Sidney Crosby‘s points mark (17) in six games.
Lazar had 1 assist in six regular season games for the Oil Kings and scored his first (and only) WHL goal of the year in Edmonton’s final game, a 4-1 loss to Red Deer. He scored 30 goals with 37 assists in 51 games for the Okanagan Midget and Prep teams and was the leading scorer for Team British Columbia with 12 goals and 5 assists in six games.
2011-12: Lazar played in 63 games for Edmonton as a WHL rookie and was the Oil Kings’ leading scorer during their WHL Playoffs championship run. After scoring 20 goals with 11 assists and finishing plus-15 with 56 penalty minutes during the regular season, he scored 8 goals with 11 assists and was plus-nine in 20 playoff games. In four games at the Memorial Cup he had one assist. Lazar represented Canada Pacific at the 2011 U17 World Hockey Challenge and scored 2 goals with 1 assist in five games.
2012-13: An assistant captain for the Oil Kings in his second season, Lazar scored a career-high 38 goals with 23 assists and was plus-25 with 47 penalty minutes in 72 games. Edmonton again finished first in the Central Division; tying Kelowna with 108 points for second most in the WHL. In the first two playoff rounds Lazar scored 4 goals with 1 assist and was an even plus/minus with 6 penalty minutes in nine games. He was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning U18 team at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August and in five games scored 3 goals with 1 assist. He also played for Team WHL in the Subway Super Series. Lazar was ranked 26th amongst North American skaters in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft, and 20th in the CSS final rankings.