Sports

Lazar can feel the breeze

Vernon’s Curtis Lazar is projected as a first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft next Sunday in New Jersey. - Photo Submitted
Vernon’s Curtis Lazar is projected as a first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft next Sunday in New Jersey.
— image credit: Photo Submitted

Summer vacation for Curtis Lazar and family will be a fantasy trip of sorts. The six of them will stay in a hotel near Times Square and do some sightseeing around New York.

Next Sunday, folks Dave and Karen, and their other kids, Jenna, Ryan and Cory, will head to the Prudential Centre in Newark, New Jersey, for the NHL Entry Draft.

Curtis, who, depending on which rankings outfit you follow, is rated 12th (International Scouting Services), 20th (Central Scouting North America skaters) or 32nd (sportscaster Craig Button).

After a 38-goal regular season with the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings, and another nine playoff snipes, Lazar goes in the lottery known as a heart-and-soul forward with speed, size and scoring touch.

Home in Vernon until leaving Thursday for New York (his family goes Tuesday), Lazar lost sleep worrying about the draft rankings early in the Oil Kings’ winning season.

“I was thinking too much about the rankings and now, I’m at that point where I can focus on the draft. I’ve been laying in bed at night wondering ‘What if?’ It doesn’t matter what team drafts me, but some people are hoping I go to the Canucks and that would be great. One thing for sure is I’ll be going to a prospect camp a week after the draft so that’s exciting.”

The Canucks choose 24th, three spots ahead of the Maple Leafs.

Hockey people say Lazar boasts an NHL-quality shot. A sign of such a trait came when Lazar was 10 and won a hardest shot competition, getting clocked at 110 kilomotres an hour.

He used to break doors and windows at his home in Salmon Arm at the same age.

“I broke a door in the basement and garage with a wrist shot, and I broke a window in the basement on a slapshot,” Lazar laughingly told Roger Knox of the Salmon Arm Observer, in 2005. “The window wasn’t really my fault. My slapshot hit the crossbar and it broke the window.”

Lazar is a threat to score from the outside, but also gets a lot of goals from battling in close for rebounds. He’s a strong skater, he’s always smiling and he’s sound defensively. He was a plus-25 this year.

Take a few minutes and watch a video interview with Lazar on the Oil Kings’ website. He’s such a positive, humble, happy-go-lucky young man who will make any NHL team better.

Edmonton head coach Derek Laxdal offered some sage advice to Lazar when he struggled out of the WHL gate last fall.

“I told him not to worry about the ranking; focus on the way you play. When it comes to the draft, there’s gonna be an NHL team that likes the way you play, and from what I’m understanding, there’s 30 NHL teams out there that like the way you play.”

I have known Lazar since he was 15 and he’s mature above his years. Whenever he got the chance, he was at the rink watching his siblings play. He’s polite, respectful and likeable.

“First of all, he’s a great kid, and a highly talented player,” said Oil Kings’ GM Bob Green, on the team’s website. “He plays the game the right way all over the ice, he’s very responsible away from the puck, he plays a physical game and likes to finish his checks, and he’s got the ability to finish.”

Green says the 18-year-old’s intangibles and character are what sets him apart from many others.

“He’ll do anything to win, he’s a highly competitive kid who’ll do whatever it takes. He’s not selfish, and he’ll change his game and role to whatever he needs to do to help the team win.”

Lazar attended the 20th NHL Combine last week at the Westin Bristol Place and the Toronto International Centre. Key sponsors included Reebok, which outfitted the prospects head to toe, and Gatorade.

“I met with 26 teams for an average of five to 10 minutes each,” Lazar told me. “I didn’t get asked any weird questions. Anaheim asked me what my favourite animal was and I said, ‘I’m sorry but the mallard duck isn’t my favourite.’

“Colorado asked me, ‘Do you know when we pick?’ I jokingly said, ‘You guys are somewhere near the top aren’t you?’ I asked them if anybody had got that question wrong and they said, ‘You’d be surprised.’”

Lazar hasn’t seen all his fitness testing results, but official stats show him placing fifth in the Upper Body 4 Kg Ball event.

“You had your back to the wall and you threw the medicine ball as far as you could (he tossed it 227 inches).”

Especially appealing to NHL scouts is Lazar’s knack for scoring anytime, anywhere. He was second in team powerplay snipes with 14 and added two shorties.

His past will also enhance his value at the draft table, where Vernon-based scouts like Dennis Holland, Craig Demetrick, George Fargher and Marty Stein will be sitting.

Lazar was taken by Edmonton second overall in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft behind Alex Forsberg, who went to the Prince George Cougars.

He captained Team B.C. to the gold medal at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, and played for Team Pacific in the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Lazar helped Canada’s Under-18 team strike gold at the 2012 Memorial for Ivan Hlinka.

At the Canada Winter Games, he registered a whopping 12 goals and 17 points in only six games, breaking Steve Stamkos’ goal-scoring record and Sidney Crosby’s record for points in the tournament.

Just for the record, Madison Bowey of the Kelowna Rockets was also asked the animal query at the Combine. He is pegged as an early second-rounder.

“The Bruins asked me what my favourite animal was, so that was a little different than the others,” Bowey told Black Press Sports. “But right away, I said ‘a bear’. I was all over that one, so I think that (interview) went pretty well.”

Viper grad Adam Tambellini, of the Surrey Eagles, had the lowest body-fat percentage at 5.0. Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads, Central Scouting’s third-ranked skater, was second at 5.4 per cent. His teammate, No. 2-ranked skater Nathan MacKinnon, was seventh at 7.6 per cent.

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