Here we are, five weeks away from the draft and we are still waiting on the Leafs final draft position. At this point it seems like it’s going to be either 20th or 21st depending on whether or not the Red Wings can close out the Blackhawks. Either way, it certainly doesn’t match the fanfare of last season’s fifth overall pick and puts the Leafs back in the spot where they might choose the safe pick over shooting for high end talent.
I can’t help but think the Leafs have the opportunity to land a top ten high end talent while still getting a safe role player with a late round pick. That option is Curtis Lazar, centre for the Edmonton Oil Kings, who was at one point considered a possibility to go top five in the draft but has bounced down to the lower picks of the first round and now back towards the middle again.
|Rank||Date of Ranking|
|Central Scouting||20th (NA)||Final|
|Hockey News||11th||Mar 27th|
|Craig Button||28th||Apr 8th|
|Future Considerations||17th||Apr 23rd|
I have written about Lazar a couple of times before (here and here), so clearly he’s a player I’ve become quite smitten with. As the resident Western Canadian blogger, I get the opportunity to remind you all of his greatness one more time.
The first question that comes up with Lazar – why has he fallen so far in the draft rankings?
The three pronged answer starts with the depth of the draft. While Lazar has had a strong season, there hasn’t been a shortage of players who can say the same thing. Lazar has also been playing a very deep, very good Oil Kings team. While he certainly had substantial ice time, it in no way compares to what a player like Sean Monahan or Hunter Shinkaruk would get. Finally, Curtis Lazar underwent a major change in roles at the beginning of the season. Last year he primarily a scoring winger, this year Curtis moved over to centre and saw significant time on the penalty kill. While he was making his adjustments to his game, it’s safe to say that Lazar had a rough few weeks in the numbers department that led to an early fall from grace with scouting services.
From a Leafs point of view this is an opportunity for redemption after the premature departure of Alexander Steen, as Lazar has the potential to fill the void of a two-way centre that can put the puck in the net, hit, and play in any situation. Perhaps there is even a greater advantage with Lazar as he is faster than Steen and has one of the quickest, most accurate shots in the WHL which will hopefully transfer well to the pro ranks.
Despite already having NHL size, speed and scoring touch, there is a lot of refinement required before Lazar will be able to play at a pro level. It seems likely that he will need two more years in junior before being ready to take the next step, but it would be hard to imagine that he won’t be representing Canada at the World Juniors next season, and having the opportunity to be one of the top remaining players on the Oil Kings next season will be a great chance to see how he manages on a team without the safety net of numerous overagers and pro draft picks. It will be his team.
Thoughts from Lazar on who he models his game after (via Buzz the Net):
“I think I’m similar towards a Mike Richards, Dustin Brown-type player. Richards may be a little more of an agitator than I am but Dustin Brown has those leadership qualities. It’s just how they each play that complete game all-around. There’s not too many points you can pick out that they’re bad at.”
Lazar also kept a blog this season on The Pipeline Show’s blog, and it’s definitely worth a read.
At the end of the day it seems unlikely that Lazar is going to slide all the way down to 20th-21st overall in the draft, as there is no shortage of teams looking for physical two-way centres. Unless there’s a significant run on defensemen it seems likely that the Leafs would need to trade up at least a few spaces in order to land Lazar, a move that in my opinion would be well worth it.