Monday, November 11, 2013

One To Watch: Ottawa Senators

I did not purposefully leave the best for last but it is just a coincidence that Ottawa is the final team to come up in the One To Watch series and the Sens have one of my personal favorite prospects. 

While they haven't become established NHL players yet, late picks like Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau have increased their value since draft day. Others that had more hype as 18-year-olds such as Robin Lehner, Mike Zibanejad and Cody Ceci still project to be main pieces in the NHL one day so all in all, kudos to the Sens. 

2012 Choice: Mark Stone - His first professional season was OK, I'd hesitate to say it was more than that because I didn't see him play with my own eyes. Judging by his stats line, 15 goals and 38 points in 54 AHL games, Stone's numbers certainly don't wow me but I don't know that big production was expected of him in year one. Last year I wondered if he might stick with the big club out of camp but Sens fans wrote in saying not to expect it and they were right. A fair bar for him to beat this year should be a full season and increased production with improved skating. 

My selection for One to Watch in 2013-14 will come as no surprise and it's after the jump. 

Curtis Lazar (C/RW)
Edmonton Oil Kings 
6', 196 lbs
Drafted 17th overall 2013

The cliché that comes to mind when I think of Curtis Lazar is "terrific player, even better person" but in this case the cliché is dead on the money. Ask anyone about Lazar, anyone, and they will tell you the same thing. I defy you to find a person who can say anything negative about the young man. 

Here's my earliest inkling of the type of character that Lazar is now so well known for: The Oil Kings drafted him 2nd overall in 2010 and he would appear in just 6 games as a 15 year old. 12 months after being drafted and having spent almost zero time with the Oil Kings outside of those half dozen games, Lazar was already displaying leadership and personal ownership of the junior team. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
As the 2011 WHL Bantam draft was unfolding, 16-year-old Lazar was busy tracking down cell phone numbers and texting the new draftees and welcoming them to the Oil Kings organization. AS A 16-YEAR-OLD. That's something the veteran captain of the team might do, not the pimply faced kid who has barely worn the jersey himself. 

Lazar was under the microscope last season because of the draft and early on the critics were out because he wasn't lighting the lamp as much as expected. He was frustrated by the criticism because much of it was coming from media sources that don't even attend WHL games let alone have a feel for what was actually happening on the ice. 

In truth, Lazar was playing on a team that was loaded with older, veteran offensive players so wasn't always getting the top power play time that others on far weaker teams, like Hunter Shinkaruk, received so the numbers weren't there.  

Photo: Andy Devlin
What those of us who actually watched Lazar play on a regular basis knew was that his 200ft game was being honed and the BC product has become more than proficient in every facet of the game. As the season went on Lazar found himself getting more offensive opportunities and he made the most of it going on a lengthy hot streak to end the year. 

When it came to the draft I told anyone who would listen that Lazar would, or should, be the first WHL forward taken. Most people thought I was being a homer and overlooking Shinkaruk but I knew that scouts agreed with me. Since then, a few scouts have appeared on The Pipeline Show and gone on the record saying that Lazar was a player they really coveted but knew they wouldn't be able to get him where their team was picking. 

This year with the Oil Kings Lazar has taken his game to another level. Although he's currently mired in a mini-slump, if you can call 5 points in 7 games a "slump", his play on the ice stands apart on most night.

Recently the Kootenay Ice were in town to play two consecutive games against the Oil Kings. The Ice are led by Sam Reinhart, considered by many as the probably #1 pick in the 2014 draft. Both he and Lazar are now in their 3rd WHL season although Reinhart, with a late '95 birthdate, is 9 months younger. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
Lazar scored and added an assist while Reinhart was held to just a single helper over the two games but although their production that weekend was similar, their performance was far from it. During those two head-to-head games, Reinhart was nearly a non-factor while Lazar was an absolute dynamo.

Reinhart will be selected higher in 2014 that Lazar was in 2013 and quite possibly be the more prolific offensive player in the NHL. The point is that Lazar, albeit older in age but not in experience, can go toe-to-toe with a player currently ranked #1 in a NHL draft. Lazar can do it all and he's doing it better this year than he did the season prior and he's only going to get better. 

At this point he has to be considered a lock for Canada's entry to the 2014 World Junior Championship and could very well be one of the players wearing a letter while in Sweden.

This was a draft day steal for Ottawa and there will be half a dozen teams kicking themselves for not looking his way before the Sens did. That's why Curtis Lazar is my choice for One to Watch with the Senators in 2013-14. 

Next Up: We're done. I appreciate you stopping by to read the series and apologize that it took me much longer to complete that I had initially planned. 


Anonymous said...

First forward taken in what draft?

Guy Flaming said...

first WHL forward taken in the 2013 NHL Draft.