It was the best gift Team Canada could have hoped for heading into the world junior championship. On Thursday the Ottawa Senators announced they would be releasing 19-year-old forward Curtis Lazar to play in the 10-day tournament.
“We're excited about our group (of players) to begin with and when you can add another piece it just solidifies a few things for us," said Scott Salmond, vice-president of hockey operations for Hockey Canada. "A guy with his pedigree having won (a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings) and a guy we see as a leader with his experience of being in the tournament last year - when you put all those things together you can't help but be excited."
As one of Canada’s most versatile and dependable forwards during the tournament last year in Malmo, Sweden, the loan is most welcome as Team Canada looks to win its first medal since 2012 and first gold since 2009.
According to Salmond, Lazar will join the team tomorrow in Toronto, but will not play in Friday night's exhibition game against Russia at the Air Canada Centre. He's expected to be in the lineup for Canada's tuneup against Sweden on Dec. 21 in Ottawa.
"He called me and he was really excited," said Salmond of Lazar. "He asked me a lot of questions and told me he's been watching the team on TV and has been reading the reports and he can't wait to get here and get started.
"We're getting him on a plane and he's going to be ready to roll."
Canada currently has 25 players in camp but will need to get down to 22 before opening the tournament on Dec. 26 against Slovakia. Lazar’s addition means three forwards will now need to be cut along with one defenceman.
Lazar, a natural centre, played the wing during last year’s tournament. He would be only one of four right-hand shots on the team up front. Brayden Point, Sam Reinhart and Jake Virtanen are the others, though Reinhart has been used exclusively as a centre during selection camp. There's no indication yet of what capacity - centre or wing - head coach Benoit Groulx would use Lazar.
"(The coaching staff) are still talking about it and seeing where he fits best," said Salmond on Thursday from camp in St. Catharines.
The Senators rookie scored his first NHL goal on Monday night and was the last remaining pro player Canada has a shot at getting for the 2015 world junior championship. Earlier in the week, the Vancouver Canucks decided against sending forward Bo Horvat – another potential returnee – to play for Canada. Before selection camp started, the New York Rangers loaned forward Anthony Duclair to play in his first world junior outing.
Lazar becomes the seventh returning player from the squad that finished fourth last year. The other returnees are goalie Zach Fucale, defenceman Josh Morrissey and forwards Reinhart, Connor McDavid, Frederik Gauthier and Nic Petan. Returning defenceman Chris Bigras was dispatched from selection camp on Sunday during the first round of cuts.