Curtis Lazar stands out among Ottawa Senators junior prospects

By Peter Morrow

Chris Driedger - Ottawa Senators

Photo: After a rough start to the 2013-14 season, Chris Driedger has been lights out for the Calgary Hitmen. Driedger was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators have six prospects evenly split across the Canadian Junior system this year, with two in the OHL, two in the QMJHL, and two in the WHL.

Leading the group is high-scoring forward Curtis Lazar, the 17th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Lazar has been stellar this season for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Behind Lazar are goaltenders Chris Driedger of the WHL and Francois Brassard of the QMJHL. Both goaltenders have been strong this season for their respective squads.

WHL

Curtis Lazar, C, Edmonton Oil Kings
Acquired: 1st round (17th overall) in 2013

Curtis Lazar is raising his game to new heights in his third full WHL season. Armed with a 6'0 frame, good speed, and a strong two-way game, he has performed very well at both ends of the ice this season.  

The 18-year-old ranks second on his team in goals and points with 21 goals and 16 assists in 27 games. He has also taken on a greater leadership role this season, serving as assistant captain for the Oil Kings and captain of Team WHL during a 3-2 loss to Team Russia last month as part of the Subway Super Series. He also made the preliminary roster for Team Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Sweden.

Chris Driedger, G, Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: 3rd round (76th overall) in 2012

Chris Driedger has regained his elite form from last spring. Driedger was outstanding during the 2012-13 playoffs, when he carried the Calgary Hitmen to a seven-game series loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Eastern Conference championship. He allowed 20 goals through five games to start the 2013-14 season, but now he and his team are trending upward.

The Hitmen are battling to maintain the top spot in the WHL's Eastern Conference, and Driedger has done his part to keep them in the running. He ranks among the league's top five in goals against average (2.30) and save percentage (.926).

While Driedger was not invited to represent his country at the upcoming WJCs, his progress to date is a promising sign for the Senators.

QMJHL

Vincent Dunn, C, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 5th round (138th overall) in 2013

Vincent Dunn has not skipped a beat since being traded from the Val D'Or Foreurs to his hometown of Gatineau, Quebec. Dunn's blend of playmaking abilities, speed, and strength allow him to thrive as a top-line junior player. He centered high-scoring Anthony Mantha (DET) for much of the 2012-13 season and finished with 52 points in 53 games. Playing minutes with Calgary Flames first-round pick Emile Poirier on his wing in Gatineau, he has 12 goals and nine assists through 26 outings.

Off the puck, Dunn is one of the league's most agitating to play against. He forechecks well, plays the body and drops the gloves often, despite his 5'11 frame. Dunn's 87 penalty minutes are a team high, despite having missed a handful of games due to injury. If Dunn can continue to balance his grit with offensive talent, he could be a good fit for the Senators roster.

Francois Brassard, G, Quebec Remparts
Acquired: 6th round (166th overall) in 2012

Francois Brassard's third QMJHL season is already one to remember. On November 22nd, he established a new league record of 212 scoreless minutes, which extended across four games.

In his third season with the Remparts, Brassard holds a 2.97 goals against average, .906 save percentage and a 13-7-2-3 record, all of which rank among the top 10 in the QMJHL. However, like most goaltending prospects, Brassard remains a long-term project.

For a 19 year-old, potential remains untapped due to his 6'2, skinny frame. His flexibility is good but added strength would give Brassard confidence to challenge shooters more often.

OHL

Jarrod Maidens, C, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 3rd round (82nd overall) in 2012

When healthy, Jarrod Maidens displays the attributes of a future professional hockey player. But in his fourth year as a member of the Owen Sound Attack, he remains sidelined by concussion-like symptoms prevalent since the 2011-12 season. Maidens possesses great hands, a quick shot, strong defensive awareness and an excellent work ethic, but he has missed the equivalent of two full OHL seasons.

Maidens went fourth overall in the OHL entry draft, and slipped to the third round in the NHL draft partially due to the concussion he suffered. For all the strengths in Maidens' game, the length of his time missed has hindered his development. Returning symptoms do not bode well for the future, but he is still eligible for another OHL season in 2014-15. At 19 years old, it could still be premature to completely write off a player of Maidens' caliber.

Ben Harpur, D, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 4th round (108th overall) in 2013

Now in his third season of OHL hockey, Ben Harpur is developing into a solid blueliner for the Guelph Storm. He grew up as a right wing, but his size (6'6, 215 pounds) and skating ability likely influenced his effortless transition upon entering the OHL. While he lacks offensive upside, he can shut down top players from the opposition.

Through 34 games, Harper has three goals and 11 assists, which is one point away from matching his totals from all of last season. He is also tied for ninth in the league in plus-minus with a plus-23 rating.

Harpur will likely return for another OHL season in 2014-15, as the defenseman could still use time to develop the tactical side of his game. He is physically imposing and plays with a nasty edge. With Harpur's blend of size and above average skating, he could be an asset for Ottawa's blue line in a few years' time.

Other Notes

Of seven Senators prospects skating in the NCAA, a trio of forwards stand out. Center Ryan Dzingel and left wing Max McCormick are lighting the lamp for the Ohio State Buckeyes, logging over a point-per-game each. Both juniors are products of the 2011 NHL Draft, and could compete with the Binghamton Senators next season if needed. Dzingel offers a quick shot, good skating, and offensive instincts while McCormick is a more developed two-way player.

Forward Robbie Baillargeon is off to a solid start in his NCAA career. He has been the top offensive performer for Boston University this year, managing five goals and eight assists through 17 games. He has a natural scoring touch, and has the vision and passing to make plays in the offensive zone.

Swedish defenseman Mikael Wikstrand is building on his strong offensive performance from 2012-13. In his fourth season in Sweden's Allsvenskan league, Wikstrand is hovering at just below a point-per-game, with four goals and 16 assists through 27 matches.

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