LONDON, Ont. — Curtis Lazar talks a mile per minute, but that shouldn’t be all that surprising given his schedule of the past few months. You have to get the words out quickly in order to get on to the next thing, wherever in North America that happens to be.
Lazar’s version of Summer Break went something like this: Selected 17th overall by the Ottawa Senators at the NHL Draft in New Jersey, immediately followed by the club’s intense development camp in Ottawa, a couple of weeks working on his conditioning back home in Vernon, B.C., a trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the Canadian world junior team’s mini-tournament against the U.S., Sweden and Finland and then two weeks back at training camp with the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
Now, he’s here in London, aiming to make a strong first impression as the Senators prospects take on their counterparts with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at a rookie tournament beginning Thursday.
There has barely been time to breathe, let alone time for the 18-year-old to think about wearing an NHL team’s sweater in a game for the first time.
“Especially (Wednesday), there were a little bit of nerves, getting in the locker-room and seeing some of the veteran guys,” Lazar said after skating on a line with Senators playoff hero Jean-Gabriel Pageau and former Ottawa 67’s star Shane Prince during a practice at the Bell Sensplex and before boarding the team bus for the six-hour trip here. “Sure, it’s a whirlwind, but it’s a reality now, and my goal is to be playing with these guys as soon as I can, so I’ve got to get used to it.”
Indeed, Lazar is doing his best to roll with it all, even joking about the crowd of media surrounding him as he stepped off the ice.
“I’ve got a media scrum already, and it’s only my first day,” he said. “But playing in the nation’s capital, it’s going to be good, they love their Senators and I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”
Regardless of how well Lazar plays in London, he will receive an invite to the Senators’ main camp, which opens next Wednesday. While it’s a long-shot that he would make the opening day lineup — he knows he’s effectively battling three or four others for the second line right wing spot left vacated by Daniel Alfredsson’s departure to Detroit — he insists he’s not caught up in the long-term.
“My motto is that the most important day is tomorrow,” he said. “That’s my mindset coming in here, make the most of it, capitalize on my opportunities. The tournament in London is going to be big for myself.”
Binghamton coach Luke Richardson, who will be behind the bench for the Senators rookies this weekend, acknowledges that many teenagers are a tad unsettled, perhaps understandably in awe of their surroundings when they receive their first taste of the NHL. However, he says Lazar isn’t one of them.
“He’s a very poised young man, controlled on the ice and off the ice,” said Richardson. “He’s taking it all in — you can tell. Some guys might be a little more immature and they’re kind of running around and you can tell they’re a deer in the headlights.”
It’s hard to wipe the smile off Lazar’s face right now, but even if the Senators eventually opt to send him back to junior for another season, he insists it won’t dampen his spirits. He talks about having “the luxury of going back to Edmonton, where there’s a great program in place,” as well as having a chance to play for Canada on the world stage.
“That’s definitely motivation, for sure,” he said. “Growing up, playing in the world juniors has always been a goal of mine. I always wanted to represent my country, get them to the medal round.”
Any way you look at it, there will be a benefit to Lazar’s not-so-lazy summer.