Curtis Lazar was a fan of the Vancouver Canucks growing up in Salmon Arm, B.C. Now, after signing a three-year deal on the first day of NHL free agency, he gets to live out his dream of pulling on a Canucks jersey and hitting the ice in Vancouver.
Which jersey is he looking forward to wearing the most? It has to be the black skate.
"Honestly, the black skate jersey, when I saw them wearing it before I was like, 'Wow,'" said Lazar in a Zoom conference call with Vancouver media. "It's probably one of the sharpest jerseys and that's just kind of the trend — I mean, old is new again...I hope we get to wear those again next year."
Lazar also praised the navy blue orca jerseys made famous by the West Coast Express, the short-lived red alternate jerseys from the mid-90's, and the classic stick-in-rink. If there was any doubt that Lazar was a true Canucks fan growing up, he erased those doubts completely.
That was also clearly evident when he was asked if there were any Canucks players he admired who played the same gritty, energetic style as he does. He quickly invoked the names of three fan-favourite forwards.
"There's Matt Cooke, Raffi Torres, obviously the late Rick Rypien — watching those guys just inject that energy out there was pretty cool," said Lazar. "Kevin Bieksa was one too, he loved to get under opponents' skins. Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, the list goes on and on with those guys."
Playing for the Boston Bruins the last couple of years, Lazar also grew an appreciation for one of the all-time great Canucks villains: Brad Marchand.
"He was the guy that played the game along the line — sometimes he'd cross it — but Brad was a true competitor," said Lazar. "For myself, I'm not really that guy that's gonna be running his mouth out there — I'll let my play do the talking — but nobody's gonna get a free pass with me on the ice."
Lazar's enthusiasm for joining the Canucks was obvious and not just because it fulfills a childhood dream. In Vancouver, Lazar sees a team that is heading in the right direction and can use exactly what he brings on the ice.
"I'm a firm believer that we can win here," said Lazar. "The steps that the team took, especially in the second half last seasonm is a great area to build off of going into this year and to have that opportunity to see myself as having a defined role, really being able to be a difference maker and to be a part of things is what excited me."
Originally selected in the first round by the Ottawa Senators in 2017, Lazar never became that top-six scoring forward that the Senators envisioned. Instead, he had to carve out a bottom-six role with his gritty two-way game.
"It's that hard-nosed, pretty simple style of hockey but it's effective," he said. "It's that win-at-all-costs mentality, whatever it takes — sacrificing the body. I call them character stats, that's the area that I pride myself in."
Lazar led the Bruins in one of those character stats, with a team-leading 186 hits. That physical element is a major part of Lazar's game.
"For me, it's all about just getting a feel for the flow of the game," said Lazar. "At home especially, if the team needs a jolt, if you want to get the fans going, you'll hit a guy, it kind of gets that energy up."
For Lazar, it's not just aimless physicality. He hits with a purpose.
"It's hitting to separate the puck on the forecheck. It's always better to play with the puck," he said. "I'm not gonna be a guy that's chasing hits away from the play. At one point in my career I did and I feel like I've cleaned that up."
While Lazar is an effective defensive forward, he hasn't always contributed as much at the other end of the ice. He had a career-high 8 goals in 70 games this past season with the Bruins. The Canucks have talked about wanting more depth scoring from their bottom-six forwards — can Lazar provide that element?
"Absolutely," said Lazar emphatically. "I'm 27 but I see myself just entering my prime, where I understand the league... I know what it takes to score, what it takes to win, and I'm still coming into my own on the offensive side."
"That's a primary focus this summer is that finishing aspect," he added. "A lot of my goals are around that blue paint that I'm fighting for and just doing whatever it takes to put the puck in the net."
Will Lazar become a fan-favourite like Cooke, Torres, and Rypien before him? He's eager to try.
"I know people in B.C. and Canucks fans, how passionate they are," said Lazar. "So, I want to take it upon myself to do what I can to help us win."