The Western League is rolling out a killer crop of draft-eligible defensemen this year, from Ryan Murray and Matt Dumba to Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly. But if there’s one forward poised to give a lot of them hell, it’s Edmonton Oil Kings rookie Curtis Lazar.
The second overall pick in the 2010 bantam draft, Lazar is a 2013 NHL prospect with big offensive upside and a lot of good character traits. And though he got into 10 games with the Oil Kings this past season (four in the playoffs), the wait between getting drafted by a WHL team and becoming a regular – players are taken a year younger than in the Ontario and Quebec Leagues and therefore can’t make the jump right away – can be tough.
“It’s good because it allows you to develop more,” Lazar said. “But it bites at you because you want to be playing junior.”
That extra season did allow Lazar to take in many unique opportunities, however. The six-foot, 181 pound center played for the Okanagan Hockey Academy, a hot house program in B.C. that combines education and training. Lazar would have class until 1 p.m., then hit the rink for a couple hours, followed by off-ice training. On the weekends, the team would play other academies, such as the Calgary Edge school and B.C.’s Pursuit of Excellence – Lazar’s old team.
He also went to California this summer to participate in a training camp run by his agency, CAA.
“It was my second year going out there,” Lazar said. “This year was special because I knew what to expect. We got to do some cool new things, too, like meet the California Condors, a team of autistic players, plus Rob Blake came out and skated with us.”
But if there was one event that really stuck out, it was his performance at the Canada Winter Games for Team B.C. The slick pivot broke tourney records set by Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby en route to a gold medal over Team Quebec. Lazar had three tallies in that 7-4 win. All told, he notched 12 goals and 17 points in six games.
“After the first tryout for the team, I went onto YouTube to watch clips of past games,” Lazar said. “I noticed that Stamkos had 11 goals and the announcers were saying that would never be broken. I said, ‘OK, that’s a good goal to break.’ ”
Fast-forward to that final showdown and Lazar had some work to do.
“I knew coming into the final that I needed a hat trick to (beat) Stamkos,” Lazar said. “I got a little greedy on the empty-netter (to break the record), but I had no idea about breaking Crosby’s points record.”
To top it off, Lazar was captain of B.C.’s winning entry. But that shouldn’t be much of a surprise for a kid who includes Jonathan Toews and Jarome Iginla as role models for their leadership qualities. Joe Sakic and Ryan Getzlaf are also favorites.
“I feel I have good hockey sense and I anticipate the play well,” Lazar said. “I think I play a good all-around game.”
He still wants to work on the defensive aspects of his game, but those who evaluate talent in the WHL can’t wait to see what Lazar does over the course of a full season.
“He has blazing speed, high hockey IQ and a thick frame,” said one scout. “He’s hard to knock off the puck.”
And he’s certainly happy to be playing for Edmonton. Lazar set the Oil Kings website as the home page on his laptop and never hesitated to text his future teammates when he had questions last season. He also knows what the next mission is for the franchise.
“Making that deep playoff run,” he said. “They’ve paid their dues and the team is heading in the right direction.”
With Lazar on board, it’s hard to see where the Oil Kings could go wrong.
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