What can the Flames expect from Curtis Lazar?

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 12:45 am by Ari Yanover

curtis lazar
Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

The Calgary Flames are not contenders. They appear to be on the upswing, and odds are looking good they’ll make the playoffs this season, but they aren’t a major threat to win anything yet. They’re a team that is not in any position to rent players for a playoff run.

And for the most part, they stuck to their word. Michael Stone may or may not turn out to be a rental, but at 26 years of age, he certainly fits into the Flames’ age group.

And so does 22-year-old Curtis Lazar. He’s the fifth 2013 first round pick the Flames have acquired: a month older than Morgan Klimchuk, who has yet to make his NHL debut; and younger than Sean Monahan, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Emile Poirier. Following the trade, Brad Treliving was emphatic that this was a long-term move, and Lazar was a part of the Flames’ plans for the future.

Contrast that to, say, the 35-year-old Radim Vrbata. The Flames are aware they’re still building a team, and they decided to spend assets on someone they expect to be a part of it for years to come.

What he’s done so far

Lazar does not have an impressive stat line.

This season, he has 24 shots and one assist – a secondary assist, at that – in 33 games with the Ottawa Senators. He’s also played 13 games in the AHL this season, during which time he’s put up three goals and one assist: a very weak statline, even for someone who wasn’t a first round pick.

Go further back. He scored 20 points in 76 games with the Senators in the 2015-16 season. As a rookie, he scored 15 points over 67 games back in 2014-15.

Go further back. He’s represented Canada internationally at the World Juniors, including captaining for them in 2015, a tournament in which he scored nine points in seven games: fifth in team scoring.

Go further, further back. The Senators selected him 17th overall in 2013 as he was coming off of 61 points in 72 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He went on to put up 76 points in 58 games the following season. He wore a letter both years, but never actually led his team in scoring.

In 176 NHL games, Lazar has scored 12 goals and 24 assists for 36 total points. He’s 10th in games played for his draft class and 15th in scoring, with Anthony Mantha directly behind him in 120 fewer games played.

Where he’s at now

Lazar has only averaged 8:49 in ice time this season. He averaged 13:52 the season before. This season, he has primarily played alongside Chris Kelly and Chris Neil, two players it’d be awfully hard to find success with. Last season, he played mostly alongside Neil and Alex Chiasson. There’s a bit of a pattern there: Lazar is not getting to play with high potential players.

Via Corsica, Lazar’s 5v5 CF of 39.79% this season is easily the worst on the Senators. This comes with an offensive zone start ratio of 36.07%: sixth among all Senators with at least 30 games played. Or, to put it another way:

ottawa usage chart

He is that bright red dot further on the right side of the chart, away from the other red dots. Let’s put it this way: he gets preferential zone starts and he not only doesn’t score, at all, but the play is constantly going against him.

And it isn’t just this year the play is going against him. In 2015-16, he had a 5v5 CF of 42.84%, which was the worst among all Sens to play throughout the season, albeit with 25.10% offensive zone starts: sixth worst on the Senators that season.

To compare, Chiasson was a 43.66% CF guy that season, just above Lazar, with a 23.32% offensive zone starts, fourth worst among Sens regulars in 2015-16. This season on the Flames, he’s been a 52.17% CF guy – sixth on the Flames – with 39.17% offensive zone starts, third best on the team.

Where does he fit in?

Lazar is a right-shooting centre who can also play the wing.

There’s no home for him on Mikael Backlund’s line, because if the Flames haven’t messed with that line this season, they aren’t about to now.

In theory, there could have been a home for him on Sean Monahan’s line, but considering Micheal Ferland’s play up there as of late, it would be insanity to demote him for someone who has managed all of one assist this season.

If he plays on Sam Bennett’s line, then you’re bumping Kris Versteeg or Troy Brouwer – probably Brouwer, based on position – to the fourth line. As much as Bennett has underperformed this season, he has more than one assist. As much as Brouwer isn’t living up to his contract, he has more than one assist.

So then is it the fourth line? He’s not going to outplay Matt Stajan. He’s familiar with Chiasson, but Chiasson is performing at a higher level than he is at the moment. So is Lance Bouma, for that matter, and Bouma isn’t exactly a pinnacle of greatness, either.

It’s hard to see where, exactly, Lazar fits in this lineup. And because he’s waiver-eligible, the Flames likely won’t send him down; you don’t demote someone you just spent a second round pick on.

What’s the verdict?

It’s far too early to say, but at this point in time, Lazar doesn’t even look like he belongs in the NHL. There’s nothing particularly great about his game at the moment: he can’t score and despite favourable starting conditions the play consistently goes against him.

If this is a long-term project, then it’s a really long-term project.

That’s the one saving grace to Lazar: that he’s 22 years old and you have to hope this isn’t as good as things get for him. That’s pretty much it. There’s nothing else redeeming about this. (Other than the part in the press conference where it was stressed that Lazar has a great character, but I believe we already saw that show with Brouwer back in July. The reboot is younger and that’s about it.)

Although if it’s to be believed the Flames intend to keep Lazar in their future plans, then you have to think he gets protected for the upcoming expansion draft. That could be the trigger to leave Brouwer exposed. So perhaps that’s a hidden upside, as well.

That, and Lazar’s potential that we have to hope materializes. Because if the Flames can’t make Lazar a better player – and there’s really nowhere to go from here but up – well, then it just cost them a second round pick, and seemingly for no reason. And say what you will about weak drafts, but you can’t play the lottery if you don’t have any tickets.