First - can we all agree that Curtis Lazar would be best off in the AHL for now, if that were actually an option?
We can? Good.
Of course, we've often talked about how that isn't an option. It's either the Ottawa Senators or the Edmonton Oil Kings for Lazar this season, with maybe a dash of Team Canada at the World Juniors thrown in.
On one hand, he tore up the WHL last year. His 0.707 goals per game was fourth in the league among the top scorers. He helped his team win the Memorial Cup, with 22 points in the WHL playoffs and scoring the OT goal that sent them to the Memorial Cup finals. By all accounts, there's very little left for him to gain from another year in the WHL.
On the other hand...
Despite getting pretty protected ice time - he's had 80% offensive zone starts at Even Strength1 (also at 5 on 5 specifically, and 5 on 5 close) - he is getting killed in the possession numbers. 32.14% Corsi is noticeably bad, even on a team currently sitting at 42.37%.
Okay, yes, he's spent about 2/3 of his time with Chris Neil. That certainly explains part of it. But that other nine minutes (or so) of even strength ice time away from Neil? No great improvement there with a 40% Corsi across two games, with not a single on-ice shot attempt for Ottawa while he was away from Neil during the Tampa game. So likely part of the problem, but we don't have enough information to say it's all or even most of the problem (note: This may also explain some of the numbers for fellow scratch in Sunrise, Mike Hoffman).
Bottom line, the kid has looked to be in over his head in his first two regular season games.
That's only two games, though. Amelia mentioned in her early season observations that she thought he looked good in the debut against Nashville. I wouldn't go quite that far, but I would agree with "He didn't look tentative and seemed like he had the necessary positional awareness to play at this level". Those are the necessary building blocks for a promising career, and ones that don't often come easy. Having those down so early is a very good sign.
Then there's the preseason performance. He put up better numbers with less protected ice time in Montreal1 when playing with Zack Smith and David Legwand, and when he and Hoffman were paired with Erik Condra the night before they really carried the play1 against the Canadiens. He looked good skating with Buddy Robinson and Colin Greening against the Jets1, and with Robinson and Matt Puempel against the Maple Leafs1.
Note the distinct lack of Chris Neil in those preseason line mates. Maybe that is the main problem after all. We might get to find out a bit more about that tonight. The lineups from the morning skate2 have Lazar with Milan Michalek and Zack Smith.
Sens Lines: MacArthur Turris Stone Ryan Zibanejad Chiasson Condra Legwand Neil Michalek Smith Lazar— Brent Wallace (@tsn_wally) October 16, 2014
It may just be a rookie trying to adjust to the full pace of the regular NHL season as well. If that's the case, he's probably got 7 more games to really find his groove this season.
One thing is for sure - I don't envy Bryan Murray having to make the decision on this because right now there really isn't a good decision available. Hopefully those seven games paint a clearer picture than the first two games have.
1. Natural Stat Trick (www.naturalstattrick.com)
2. Brent Wallace, via Twitter (@tsn_wally)