It’s been a busy year for Edmonton Oil Kings’ forward Curtis Lazar — drafted 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2013 NHL Draft, a key player on Canada’s U20 World Junior Championship entry, and now a second go-round in the Memorial Cup. And it’s safe to say the Senators are pleased with his progress — at least, that’s what he thinks their actions mean.
“I think they’ve been following me pretty well. They haven’t been in contact with me too much, but I’ll e-mail their assistant GM every week, checking up, and talking about what I want to improve upon as a player,” he said. “I haven’t heard back too much, but no feedback is good feedback, right?”
Lazar was injured in the Senators’ main camp and that slowed him out of the gate. But after scoring 41 goals and adding 35 assists in 58 games, it’s fair to say that he caught up.
“This year’s been incredible for me. I went through my first training camp with Ottawa, though I did get hurt, which sort of put me behind the eight-ball,” Lazar explained. “But I had a really good showing and I came back to Edmonton, came out of the gates flying, and had a good World Juniors.
“We won a championship and we’re here [in the Memorial Cup], so I can’t really complain about the season.”
Having the burden of that “first round draft pick” tag is a weight, Lazar explained, but it’s not something that weighs on him.
“The guys will sort of bug me about it in the dressing room — and we have a couple of other guys, Griffin [Reinhart] and Henrik [Samuelsson], who also get it a little bit,” he said. “But no, I go out there and play my game and try not to let the pressure get to me.
“I do know I have to perform and I want to get to the next level as soon as possible. I know I’m going to be keyed on a little bit more but that’s an added challenge and I’m willing to accept that every night.”
Lazar is a Memorial Cup veteran, having played a minor role as a 17-year-old in the 2012 tournament. His experience at this year’s World Juniors also has given him some perspective on how to approach this year’s MasterCard Memorial Cup Tournament in London, ON.
“It’s short-term competition so there’s not much room for error. You have to come out of the gates flying; you can’t afford too many lulls. Rest is huge,” he said. “You always have to bring your 'A' game. And you have to enjoy it, too.
“They’re both so cool and so unique to be a part of that you have to enjoy it and let it soak in.”
So are the World Juniors and Memorial Cup comparable? After all, you are pitting the best junior-aged players against each other, right?
“Yes and no. I mean, short-term competition is this tournament format. But you battle with these guys all year; they’re your family and your brothers,” he said. “With the World Juniors, you’re playing for your country which is really neat. You can’t match that — the support you get from your nation is incredible. But as a team, you’re thrown together and you really have to come together quick.
“They’re two tough tournaments to win, and they’re unique in their own ways.”
Lazar, who finished this year’s campaign at +41 considers himself an all-around player, but admits he needs some work. The Senators have asked him to improve certain areas too, he added.
“They said pretty much everything. With my game, I want to be as well rounded as possible, so I really focus on the d-zone, and this year I got my offensive game going a little bit more,” Lazar explained. “I can still improve in every area of the game. That’s the great thing about hockey, you’re never going to stop learning. If I can find a way to be more productive in any situation, it’s only going to benefit me and my team.”
Right now the focus is on the Memorial Cup. But once this tournament is over, Lazar is planning on taking stock of his progress and bulking up for the coming year.
“I’ll do a good recap after the season’s over. Last year was pretty hectic with the whole draft process,” he said. “This year, I want to get bigger and faster. And I’m going to go to Ottawa and try to earn a spot. I’m very happy with the improvements I’ve made this year. It’s really benefited myself.
“We’ll see come Ottawa. All I can do is leave a good impression on the ice, and who knows what could happen.”
And would hoisting that Memorial Cup trophy help make a good impression?
“A Memorial Cup would be icing on the cake,” he added, as a huge grin broke across his face.
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