Ottawa Senators release Curtis Lazar for world junior
The Ottawa Senators have released Curtis Lazar for this year's world junior. (QMI Agency)
Curtis Lazar hasn't changed much in a year, which, for Hockey Canada, is a wonderful thing.
Nearly 12 months ago, after Canada lost to Russia in the bronze-medal game at the 2014 world junior tournament in Sweden, Lazar stood in the mixed zone at the Malmo Arena and made a statement as he peered ahead to the 2015 event.
"I want to lead," Lazar said at the time. "If I'm in this tournament again next year, I want to bring out all the details. If you have a couple of bad shifts, you're not going to make a difference in the game and ultimately the tournament."
When Lazar met with the media in the nation's capital Thursday to discuss the Ottawa Senators' decision to loan him to Canada for this year's under-20 championship, the 19-year-old native of Salmon Arm, B.C., sounded like he picked up the conversation where he left off last January.
"I want to lead and I really feel I can do that," Lazar said. "We're on home soil and the expectation is for us to win gold. I have this pro experience and if I can bring that pro mentality, that there are no off-days and you've got to work for what's out there to win, I'm looking forward to doing that."
Will Lazar tip the scales to the point that Canada will end its five-year gold-medal drought in the world junior? The parity in this tournament in the past several years has made it more difficult for one player to have that kind of singular influence.
There is no doubt, though, Lazar will add to a forward group that is deep, and one that got better last week when the New York Rangers sent Anthony Duclair to Toronto for the start of the selection camp.
Lazar was slated to join his teammates Friday, but will not play in the exhibition game against Russia at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The agreement with the Senators came after many, and lengthy, discussions between the Sens' front office and Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey operations Scott Salmond. There was input from new Senators coach Dave Cameron, who was Canada's coach in 2011 and had perspective on what the tournament can do for a player's development.
"(Lazar) is a big piece of the puzzle, but he is a piece," Salmond said. "He will come in here, hopefully, with a lot of confidence and a lot of experience of having been here last year. We expect him to be a leader, and we expect he is going to give our group a boost."
It was not clear yet where Lazar will fit into the lineup. With a top-six that includes Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid at centre and Duclair, Max Domi, Nic Petan and Robby Fabbri on the wings, there is going to be an awfully good player dropping down to the third line.
"We're not (there) yet in terms of lines, but one thing I know: (Lazar is) a major asset for our team," Canadian coach Benoit Groulx said.
"He's a competitor, everybody acknowledges that. He's such a great young man. I think he'll fit right in with our guys."
Lazar had seven points (three goals and four assists) in seven games for Canada, the third-most on the team, in the world junior last winter. This year, he should take some heat off McDavid.
The news that Lazar is on his way was met with smiles in Canada's dressing room.
"Curtis brings everything, really," said defenceman Josh Morrissey, a world-junior teammate of Lazar in Sweden.
"It is pretty hard to find a guy smiling more than Curtis does. I have got to know him pretty well and it is always fun being around him, he is always bringing the group up and he is more than a welcome addition to this roster."
Lazar, naturally, can't wait to get going.
"If I line up beside someone like Connor McDavid, all I've got to do is get open because I know he's going to find me with the puck," Lazar said. "I can't even wrap my head around what it's going to be like playing in Montreal and Toronto."
MCDAVID IN ON SUNDAY?
Connor McDavid figures he will play in Canada's exhibition game against Sweden in Ottawa Sunday night.
"I would think so, yeah," McDavid said Thursday. "I don't know."
The plan has been for McDavid, just about completely back to form after recovering from a broken bone in his right hand, to make his return that night. McDavid will be joined on the sideline for the exhibition game versus Russia Friday in Toronto by forward Nic Petan and defenceman Joe Hicketts.
Zach Fucale will start in net, with Eric Comrie playing Sunday.
"I don't know exactly when we'll decide to finalize our team, but both games are very important for our evaluation," coach Benoit Groulx said. "It's challenging to start with the Russians and then the Swedes. That's going to give us a good idea where we're at right now in terms of systems, in terms of the way we play, the way we want to play, if we're big enough, fast enough, skilled enough. It's a good weekend for us (from) that perspective."
Said Fucale: "We have a good idea of who we are and what we can do. We are confident in each other."