When the Vancouver Canucks announced they had signed Curtis Lazar to a three-year deal during free agency, fans were excited. The BC-born center grew up a Canucks fan and plays a hard-nosed style Vancouver was missing from their lineup last season. He is expected to center the team’s fourth line, bringing long-term, cost-efficient stability to a position they have had problems properly filling the last few seasons.
Lazar Scouting Report
Since entering the NHL, Lazar has had to adapt his game. While he was a prolific scorer in junior, he never developed into an offensive weapon at the pro level. Instead, he has become a dependable, two-way center who can kill penalties and play a physical game.
Last season with the Boston Bruins, Lazar scored eight goals and added eight assists in 70 games on Boston’s fourth line. Despite being a center, he played the majority of the season on right-wing besides Tomáš Nosek. He is versatile in that he can play up the lineup when injuries occur and plays a style that matches the game plan of head coach Bruce Boudreau. This is a player that gets in on the forecheck, fights for loose pucks and plays with speed. He is also a wrecking ball, having thrown 186 hits last season, which is a feat only one player (Luke Schenn) accomplished during the 2021-22 season. If fans enjoyed the way Tyler Motte played on the ice these last few seasons, they are gonna love what the Salmon Arm native will bring to the organization.
Lazar’s Junior Career Featured A Lot of Winning
While he has evolved into a bottom-six forward at the NHL level, in the Western Hockey League (WHL) Lazar was a star. In 199 regular season games, he finished his career with 99 goals and 169 points while playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He was an impact player that helped Edmonton to two Memorial Cups, winning one in 2014 and making it to three straight WHL Finals from 2012-14.
While he may not score 41 goals for the Canucks as he did for the Oil Kings, having a winning culture is important to have in the organization. On top of his success in the WHL, he also won gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament for Canada in 2013 and was named to the World Junior team in 2014 and 2015, captaining Canada to a World Junior Gold in 2015. He is a player who has a long history of success and winning championships in leadership roles. The hope is he can bring his winning pedigree to Vancouver and help them host a playoff game at Rogers Arena for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Canucks Find Fourth Line Stability
One issue the Canucks have faced in the past is finding the perfect fourth-line center. Last season, they used Juho Lammikko in that spot, but there were elements of his game, like his overall speed and physicality, that didn’t fit into Boudreau’s style. Despite playing fewer games, Lazar bested him in almost every statistical category, including points, Corsi for percentage, blocked shots and hits. While Lammikko was effective, the Canucks did upgrade the fourth-line center position with Lazar without breaking the bank.
One other advantage of signing Lazar is that he is right-handed. Vancouver’s roster is primarily built of left-handed forwards, with all of their centers from last season being left-shot. It was important the Canucks added some variety to their lineup as it not only should help them with weak side faceoffs but also provide them with different shooting angles in the offensive zone. This should make it more difficult for opposing goaltenders as they will need to change their positioning when he has the puck. Overall, he provides the Canucks with more options than his predecessor did and will make their fourth-line more of a threat while on the ice.
Lazar Should Help the Penalty Kill
While Lazar was primarily brought in to fill the fourth-line center position, the other reason is his work on the penalty kill. Last season, he played just over 110 minutes of ice time shorthanded, holding the opposition to 44 high danger chances and 12 total goals allowed. He was a big reason why Boston finished ninth overall on the penalty kill during the regular season, as he made life difficult for his opponents thanks to his strong defensive zone coverage and ability to get down the ice to pressure the opposition into quick breakouts from their own zone.
Bringing in Lazar gives the Canucks more options when it comes to the penalty kill. This is a group that finished 30th overall in the league last season, so any help will be welcomed. His addition will also allow Vancouver to rest players like J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, so they will be able to focus on the offensive part of the game.
Canucks & Lazar Look to Be a Perfect Match
Watching the Canucks play, it was obvious they needed to get faster and tougher to play against. Lazar fills both of those needs. While his impact on the ice will not show up on the scoresheet much next season, he will be an integral part of the lineup during the 2022-23 season.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.