Curtis Lazar found a fit Thursday night and Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean found a new secret weapon in a newly-formed "kid" line.
On Thursday night against Chicago, MacLean paired the 19-year-old Lazar with Mark Stone, 22, and Mike Hoffman, 24, and that trio opened the scoring and carried play during most of their shifts, especially in the first period.
- Senators' Curtis Lazar proves he belongs in Ottawa
- Patrick Sharp lifts Blackhawks to shootout win over Sens
"They obviously got us off to a good start and I thought they had a lot of good shifts," MacLean said after the game.
"We thought they gave a real good account of themselves. They played with good speed and good skill. They were fun to watch."
"Kid" lines usually consist of young energetic players full of adrenaline, who might also have a previous chemistry during their years in junior or the American Hockey League.
On this line, Hoffman and Stone previously played together with the Binghamton Senators. Adding Lazar — a consistent hard-worker — seems like a nice fit.
Before Thursday night, I didn’t like how Ottawa had used Lazar. On one hand, it’s good to test him in various situations with different linemates, especially if he’s going to stick in Ottawa for the season.
Evaluated against Condra, Greening
On the other hand, the Sens management and coaching staff is evaluating the rookie in comparison to players like Erik Condra and Colin Greening.
The main question surrounds Lazar’s offence, but so far he's proven to be more dangerous with the puck than the other two players. We saw more glimpses on Thursday as he set up the game’s opening goal where Stone re-directed a Lazar shot-pass less than three minutes into the first period.
Lazar's fate with the team remains uncertain, but there are encouraging signs he might stick around — he did recently move in with veteran defenceman Chris Phillips and his family, hinting Lazar is here to stay.
Entry-level players like Lazar can play a maximum of nine games in a season before their contract kicks in — which starts the clock on when they can later enter the free agent market — so teams often send players down before then if they think the players aren't ready. Lazar has already played seven games, which means he has at least two more chances to impress before his future with the team becomes clear.
In his first four games this season, Lazar played more than 14 minutes per game, which signalled the coaching staff trusted him and was ready to throw him into the fire. In the next two games, his ice time dropped. In Columbus, for example, only Chris Neil and Condra played fewer minutes.
No doubt, the lack of consistent linemates has influenced Lazar’s numbers — he’s also played with Milan Michalek, Zack Smith, David Legwand, Condra and Neil — but MacLean has found something valuable: a line of young players who can contribute at both ends of the ice.
Stability will help Lazar, especially if he remains at centre. He looked very comfortable in between Michalek and Smith, and he did so again Thursday between Stone and Hoffman.
"We'll see what they do the next time we put them out there," said MacLean.
"But the speed and skill, I think they generated quite a few shots at the net — I think it was eight total if I'm not mistaken — and they could have generated probably eight more if they decided to shoot the puck and not pass to each other," he said.
MacLean does face a dilemma with so many centres on the roster, but if Zack Smith can play left wing that means Lazar can stick in the middle, and the Senators will be better for it.