As the only teenager with the Ottawa Senators, Curtis Lazar takes more than his share of ribbing.
He was shoe checked opening night in Nashville and was heckled as the Vancouver media mobbed him before the Sens lost in overtime to the Canucks on Remembrance Day.
Through 14 games as an NHL rookie, Lazar is smiling more than usual and loving every minute of life in the show.
“I can’t even really believe I’m playing in the NHL,” said Lazar, moments after checking into a Calgary hotel Friday afternoon. “I’m probably going to go ‘wow’ every time I step on the ice for the next two years.”
Flying to games is of course nice, but a hole in their plane’s engine Thursday night forced the Sens to bus three hours to Calgary Friday morning. They headed to the old Stampede Corral and had a different kind of scrimmage.
“You had to play opposite hand and (captain Erik) Karlsson was just as good left-handed. I used (linemate Mike) Hoffman’s stick and did pretty good. It’s a hot stick right now.”
Hoffman has been a huge surprise for the Sens, who went into Saturday night’s game versus the Flames tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division with the Leafs.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2009, Hoffman rang up 100 goals in two Major Junior seasons with Drummondville and Saint John. He pocketed 30 snipes with the AHL Binghamton Sens last year and has seven with Ottawa, playing alongside Lazar and Mark Stone.
They were called The Kid Line, but the Sens have since tweeted and renamed them The Man Line since Hoffman turns 25 in a week and Stone is 22. It’s a bargain-bin unit with Hoffman earning $750,000, Stone taking home $603,00 and Lazar making $894,000.
Lazar, who racked up 137 goals in three years with the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings, drew the assist from the sidewall on Hoffman’s overtime winner Thursday night in Edmonton. Karlsson’s shot broke David Perron’s stick and gave Lazar room to move in and feed Hoffman.
“He’s (Hoffman) fast and he’s got a really good shot,” said Lazar, who said he coughed up the puck on Edmonton’s second goal. “Stone has the smarts. He puts pucks in places Hoffman can retrieve them and I just try and fit in.”
Lazar has missed a few glorious chances for his first goal while collecting six assists. A first-round pick, 17th overall, two years ago, the two-way centre won a Memorial Cup with the Oil Kings last year.
Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean started Lazar at centre at Rexall Place, where his Oil King teammates were cheering his every move.
“I won the faceoff against Boyd Gordon, but I didn’t win too many after that. It was a really special night, getting to start. They introduced me on the starting lineup on the Jumbotron and the fans gave me a nice ovation. All my Oil King teammates were watching the pre-game skate so I was pretty nervous. I didn’t want to mess up.”
Lazar, who turns 20 Feb. 2, spent his day off Wednesday visiting the Oil Kings, going out for dinner with his former roommate Brett Pollock, and sodas with the rest of the team later.
MacLean has been sending Lazar’s line over the boards to create energy.
“He’s intense and he’s pretty old school. I know I have to pay my dues and you have to get the job done or you won’t get ice time. It’s definitely a big jump going to the regular-season games. It’s been gruelling and it was a big sigh of relief when they kept me after nine games.”
Lazar passed the nine-game threshold, where the first year of his three-year entry-level contract officially kicks in. It doesn’t mean that he can’t be sent back to the Oil Kings, though. If he plays 40 games with Ottawa, he gains one year towards being unrestricted down the road.
He’s a plus-four and has always been a 200-foot player so he’s not likely going to leave Ottawa. The Sens told him he could find his own place, but he’s going to stay where he’s at, rooming with veteran d-man Chris Phillips, his wife Erin, a nanny, and three kids, ages 11 through seven.
“It’s a great situation. Philly’s wife has a nutritionist degree and has a special cookbook so the food is outstanding. I’m like a dad, driving their little ones to figure skating and hockey.”
Used to playing clutch minutes with Team Canada, Team B.C. and the Oil Kings in two Memorial Cups, Lazar is adjusting to a lesser responsibility.
“It’s a little harder playing a fourth-line role. I’m getting 10 to 12 minutes a night and you have to be consistent. I know I can play the game, but there have been some hiccups.”
On Karlsson, Lazar said: “He’s such a laid-back guy and he’s super human, some of the things he does in practice and games.”
Ottawa has been winning with spectacular goaltending from Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.
“They’re the ones keeping us in games, but I know we can elevate our game. There’s lot of hockey left.”
Lazar’s family caught his historic first game in Nashville and they were in Vancouver. He signed his brother Cory’s cast in Vancouver after Cory broke his right arm in Bantam Rep. Cory declined an offer from Curtis to have Karlsson add his signature.