by Lisa McRitchie on 01/08/13 at 12:00 AM ET
The draft rankings can get a little murky once you pass the top five. Even after the top three one tends to see a lot of variation from scout to scout, and so for many teams it becomes a matter of what they value and need the most that will lead them to pick one player over another.
For Edmonton Oil King centre Curtis Lazar bouncing around first round draft ranking has been something everyone constantly reminds him of this season, but somehow remains something he claims he never thinks about.
But high ranking and the hockey spotlight is something that Lazar has seen before. Drafted by the Oil Kings second overall in the 2011 Bantam Draft, Lazar showed bouts of brilliance even from his first WHL appearance.
In his first full season with the WHL championship Edmonton Oil Kings, Lazar settled in to score 20 goals, 31 points and finish the season a +15. While those stats weren’t even close to team leading, it’s difficult for a player to stand out on the scoring sheet when the team is stacked full of point producing players. And yet somehow, Lazar garnered attention for himself, Lazar was a player to watch.
Now that his draft is mere months away, you would think that the pressure would be on, especially with the Oil Kings looking to make a repeat appearance at the Memorial Cup this year. Not so Lazar will assure you as he smiles the ear to ear grin only those who are truly care free can pull off.
“No pressure. None, none at all. Like I’ve said from the beginning of this year, the way that I focus on the draft is just not think about it. I take it day by day and game by game and good things will happen for me.”
And how does he keep his focus away from the draft? “Have fun. I play the game for the right reasons. I’m not going to be “that” guy. If I don’t like this game, I won’t be playing. And for me, it’s the passion, that drive that keeps me going and like I said just take it day by day because I am my own breed of player. I’m unique I think, and I just go out there and play.”
Lazar’s own breed of player is a strong two-way player and in his own words is “Just strong defencively and not cheating offensively. I’m not going to be that guy that’s putting up huge numbers but not going to be a slouch in the d-zone as well. Just doing the little things right all over the ice.”
No matter which team drafts Lazar in New Jersey this summer, they will be gaining a multi-dimensional player who is “Confident playing any role, throw me in net even! (laughs) No, I’m confident playing the wing or centre is something that I’ve gotten adjusted to this year. Just anything for myself and the stage here in junior is just getting myself ready for all situations.”
Ready for all situations or not though, Lazar is not the kind of player who thinks he has it all figured out. “I’m still learning, I’ll still be learning until the day that I retire,” Lazar will tell you, dropping his ever present grin if only just a moment to cement in the sense of his earnestness.
“There’s always improvement in all areas, that’s the big thing. If I focus on one thing, then there are still all of those other areas that need work.”
After three whole sentences with a straight face, one learns that that may be Lazar’s straight face limit, as the bubbly youth can’t hold in his smile or laugh but you never feel as though it’s a maturity gauge especially given his thoughtful responses.
Currently 4th on the Oil King’s team scoring with 15 goals in 40 games, Lazar is anywhere from 8th to 15th on most draft rankings. And this means that whoever drafts Lazar could have more than they are expecting; it’s harder to stand out in a good group than a bad one and this Oil Kings’ group is a good one.
During the very long lockout of 2012-13, Lazar and the rest of the Oil Kings did reap the benefits of having an NHL team in town, and with that several players who make the city their home. These players have had more time on their hands than they’ve been used to, and the Oil Kings have been more than happy to benefit.
“Ryan Smyth is out there practising with us pretty much every day, and his little guy is out there too.” Lazar explains, “He’s a huge influence for us as a hockey club. Just the leadership that he has when you look at him and his NHL career so far.”
And so just as with the young members of the Edmonton Oilers, Smyth has been instilling leadership and sportsmanship with the next wave of hockey talent coming out of Edmonton.
Smyth hasn’t been the only to make an appearance at Rexall Place though. While many Oilers were able to find contracts elsewhere in the hockey world, the Oilers’ goaltenders like most NHL tenders have not been as fortunate. Devan Dubnyk was able to get playing time with Team Canada at the Spengler Cup, and subsequently came home with a gold medal. For Khabibulin though, the chance to continue working out of Rexall Place was not something to be passed up. For the Oil Kings, there was no reason to turn away from the opportunity to work with an NHL goaltender.
“Khabi’s been out this past week [mid December] and it’s a little different shooting on an NHL goalie than our guys, no offence, but he’s just so technically sound and just so much bigger.
“We all shoot shots on him and we’re all scared of hitting him in the head, his confidence is quite high right now, but the odd one goes over his shoulder. So that makes you feel pretty good about yourself.”
While scoring on a NHL goaltender while you are still in the WHL may be a huge confidence booster, it’s watching Khabi work that makes the biggest impact on the players. “He’s still just trying to work on his game, and that’s one thing that we can take” Lazar notes, “You walk past him before practice and he’s doing a work out trying to get prepared and it’s just non-stop for him, no matter how old you are.”
Now that the NHL is nearly back, the Oil Kings will have to get used to practising without Oiler veterans once again. But the experiences and lessons learned from time spent with Smyth and Khabi will have a lasting impact.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
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