Ottawa 67′s Leo Lazarev pick reflects OHL reaction to import goalie ban

An expat goalie for the ex-team of Petr Mrazek? Sounds about right.

Two seasons ago, the then-Ottawa 67's goalie was a showstopper during the world junior championship, garnishing his showing as the tourney's top goaltender for Team Czech Republic with some crowd-pleasing celebrations. Since that time, the Canadian Hockey League has proscribed chosing goalies in the import draft, which led to Moscow native Leo Lazarev and his family establishing residency in Ontario so he could enter the OHL priority selection draft. On Saturday, Lazarev, who has a personal flair that might evoke memories of Mrazek, was the second goalie off the board when the 67's took him in the second round, No. 24 overall. Selecting the Junior B Waterloo (Ont.) Siskins puck-stopper also came during a run of early picks used in goalies during the first priority selection since the import goalie embargo was enacted.

"In the past we've always drafted goalies from the fifth round on and relied on our European picks," 67's coach-GM Chris Byrne said. "We've had a decent run. With that avenue closed off, we thought it was really important to get depth at that position. For us, looking at our depth chart, it was definitely needed ... Having too much goaltending is a position we want to be in. It may be a change in philosophies for us."

"He's definitely got personality, he's fun to watch in the net," Byrne said of Lazarev, who turns 17 in July and has led Waterloo to a 3-2 series lead over Stratford in a Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League quarter-final. "It's hard to describe but when you see him play, you'll know he is a goalie. In his loop this year, his combined save percentage was near .930. There have been some goaltenders playing in our league right now who have also put up numbers, maybe not quite as good as this kid, but [the GOJHL] is definitely a league where goaltenders have come out of."

Lazarev's journey required a ton of legwork from the Siskins, his adviser Igor Larionov and most of all his parents, who packed up and moved to Canada. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound goalie who's as nimble as a gymnast wasn't admitted into the priority selection pool until the past two weeks.

"He is so quick," 67's assistant GM Pat Higgins said. "When we watched him I said to Chris, 'I think he's kicking rebounds out so he can make another save.' This kid is quirky but he might be the most athletic. He tracks pucks like crazy. He is so focused. Again, two weeks ago this kid was not in our draft. As soon as he was added Chris and I decided we had to see him ... he will come in and challenge for the No. 1 job, he really will."

Barring import goalies was part of a broader plan to improve the stock of Canadian goalies, who take up a lower percentage of NHL jobs that at any point in the sport's history. It has altered the supply and demand in the OHL. Scoring totals jumped up this season; Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Connor Brown's OHL-leading 128 points for Erie was the highest total recorded since 2006-07.

"There's 40 goalies that have to come out of this area, Ontario, the States, wherever," Higgins said. "You see how fast goalies are going in this draft. And it's going to be like that from now on. I addressed this with our staff: 'guys, goalies have to be a priority.' We tried to trade for one and they wanted four picks for him and two were seconds. So we just spent one second."

Ottawa went through this season as a young team leaning on an overage goalie; Philippe Trudeau played 63-of-68 games for a team that finished 18th overall. Its incumbent, 6-foot-3 southpaw Liam Herbst, ios a former London Knights first-rounder who is working to overcome a skein of hip and knee problems one wouldn't give to a monkey on a rock. Selecting Lazarev and 6-foot-1, 202-pound Olivier Lafrenière of the York-Simcoe Express midgets gives it one netminding hopeful apiece in 1996, '97 and '98 age brackets.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.