Curtis Lazar is a big believer in doing the little things that help a good team become great.
The 5-foot-11.75, 193-pound forward and top 2013 NHL Draft prospect certainly has done just that this season, his second with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League.
Following an inauspicious start this season, when he had eight goals and 17 points in 27 games, Lazar finished strong, totaling 30 goals and 44 points in his final 45 games. His 38 goals led the team, and his 61 points were fifth.
"He had a dry spell for a while, but when he was on, he was around the puck and creating stuff all game," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He can certainly take advantage of his opportunities."
Curtis Lazar won a gold medal for Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, notching three goals and four points in five games. (Photo: Marko Ditkun)
Lazar admits to allowing all the hype of his draft season to get the best of him early on.
"I got off to a slow start but sort of put that behind me," Lazar told NHL.com. "Since December I've been playing some great hockey and have been enjoying it all. I sort of let things get the best of me, but it also allowed me to improve my defensive play. I knew the offensive numbers weren't coming, so why not turn a negative into a positive and focus on the little things that can make a difference?"
Lazar proved himself to be one of the more coachable prospects on the draft board. NHL Central Scouting placed him No. 26 on its midterm ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2013 NHL Draft, and two of NHL.com's draft experts predict Lazar could be picked in the bottom-third of the first round.
"He's got real good puck-handling ability, is a smart offensive guy and skates well," Edwards said. "He's being used on the power play and they put him in front of the net and he does a good job."
Lazar was second on the team in the regular season with 14 power-play goals and added two shorthanded goals.
Lazar really made an impression at the 2011 Canada Winter Games. Playing for British Columbia, he broke tournament records that had been established by Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby. As captain for Team B.C., Lazar had three goals in a 7-4 gold medal-winning triumph against Quebec, and finished with 12 goals and 17 points in six tournament games.
As odd as it may seem, Lazar wasn't that interested in playing hockey at an early age.
"My parents signed me up for it … I didn't like it at first," he said. "But they got me a Canucks jersey and hockey gloves, and that's when it started. I wouldn't go out if I wasn't allowed to wear those, but just stepping out onto the ice and skating. … The thrill of the game is what I enjoy."
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"I won't 'wow' people with my offensive numbers, but it's the little things that I take great pride in," he said. "If it's blocking a shot or winning a faceoff in the [defensive] zone, those are the types of things I like to do."
Born in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Lazar and his family moved to Vernon, 30 miles south, when Curtis was playing pee-wee hockey (age 11).
"I started figure skating when I was 4 and doing that type of thing," Lazar said. "When I turned 5, the Salmon Arm Silverbacks Junior A hockey club came into existence. My sister [Jenna] had skating at the rink and I was always watching the Silverbacks practice at the same time -- that's where I developed a passion to play the game."
That development led him to being drafted by the Oil Kings with the second pick of the 2010 WHL draft, then after totaling 20 goals and 31 points in 63 regular-season games, he exploded for 19 points in 20 WHL playoff games to help the Oil Kings reach the Memorial Cup and rocket him up draft ranking boards heading into the 2012-13 season.
Lazar was a member of Team Orr at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax on Jan. 16. His spotlight moment came less than two minutes into the second period, when he and Team Cherry defenseman Darnell Nurse had a fight. Nurse (6-3.5, 189 pounds), some 3 inches taller than Lazar, is No. 9 on Central Scouting's midterm ranks.
Defending teammates is something the Oil Kings' alternate captain never has taken lightly.
"It's key," he said. "I've always been a firm believer in team success over personal glory, and I'm not the kind of guy who's going to be out there brawling for my teammates. But when something happens, I want to get to the bottom of it. I'm a straight-up guy. I don't like all the gossiping behind me, so I'm not afraid to get in there."
Internationally, Lazar won a gold medal for Canada at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, notching three goals and four points in five games. He prefers the wrist shot over any other when teeing up an attempt.
"The guys give me a lot of slack the way I go down the wall and throw it off the back pad trying to set up teammates with that rebound shot," Lazar said. "For me, it's all about the quick release of the wrist shot."