Flames’ Curtis Lazar willing and ready to rebuild game in minors

The Calgary Flames missed the playoffs, but with an exciting core and new leadership joining the room like James Neal, there’s lots to look forward to this season.

In the midst of a dressing room buzzing over the news of two rookie breakthroughs, Curtis Lazar stood on the periphery, exhibiting a class and intelligence far beyond his years.

It has been four years since he too was being feted in Ottawa as a Dillon Dube-type camp revelation, but life in the NHL since hasn’t gone anywhere near the way he or his employers hoped.

So he’s ready to go down to the minors.

In a four-and-a-half minute soliloquy full of a self-awareness few people aged 23 are capable of recognizing, Lazar wore his trademark grin while giving a trio of reporters a mature, thoughtful look back on a fight to stay in the league he’s no longer willing to wage.

“Bottom line, I just want to play,” said the former first-round pick who cleared waivers Monday morning.

“If it’s here or down in the minors, I need to play. I want to be part of this organization. I’m more so looking bigger picture — I haven’t been a regular since my rookie season. The only way I’m going to get better is if I play every single night and get the chance to handle the puck in the games.

“For me, I’m kind of fed up being that so-so guy who is plugged in here and there. I want to rebuild my game and re-establish myself, and I think the organization is on the same page with that.”

He knows that chance to play with regularity, or for any more than 12 minutes a night, won’t come in Calgary anytime soon.

Dube is the latest Flames youngster to bump Lazar down the depth chart — a list that landed Lazar as the 14th forward when the team announced its season-opening roster midday Tuesday.

His surprising stats with the big team come following the player’s almost unheard of demotion request Monday, and it makes Brad Treliving one of the only GMs in history to reject such a plea.

“We’re working through that,” said Treliving, who sent down Andrew Mangiapane and Anthony Peluso instead of Lazar, who cleared waivers Monday. (Defenceman Rasmus Andersson and goalie Jon Gillies were also sent down.)

“I talked to Curtis and I find we put a lot of stock into the roster announced at 12 p.m., but I want to remind everyone the league allows us to make changes after that. We’ll see where it goes.”

In other words, Lazar will get his wish very soon, likely leaving Garnet Hathaway as the only extra forward.

“I don’t want to be one to say I’m entitled to anything,” said Lazar, who was scratched 31 times the last two seasons.

“I mean, look at the young guys and the talent we have coming on this team. I’m blown away as much as you guys to see what Dube is doing and it would be a shame if I was the reason holding him back.”

Athletes today just don’t talk like that, saying there are “no hard feelings,” and that he’d rather look big picture as opposed to enduring a daily grind he admittedly found tough to swallow as the tiniest of bit players.

Like Dube, Lazar captained Canada to World Junior gold in 2015, while on loan from a Senators club that took the former Memorial Cup winner 17th overall in 2013.

After scoring just 12 goals in almost three seasons with the Sens, he was traded to Calgary as part of a deal that cost the Flames a second-round draft pick.

It hasn’t paid off and Lazar knows it better than anyone else.

He delivered the same open, honest thoughts he shared with the media to management, which had to admire his maturity.

“Maybe this had to be done earlier in my career to help me grow,” said Lazar, hoping to re-ignite his once-promising career much like Daniel Briere and others have with a minor-league stint.

“I’m not down, I’m not hurt. I’m open to it because I know down the road where I’m going to be and it’s right here. I want to be here in Calgary and that’s what I stressed to them. If I have to play my way into a new contract, even if it is down in the minors, I’m willing to do that. I’m loyal to this team.”

So. Damn. Refreshing.

“As good as it is to be in the NHL, you can only take so much showing up at the rink every day and trying to stay optimistic,” said the former Edmonton Oil Kings captain and star sniper.

“I’m always going to have a good attitude. I just want to play. I was a first round pick for a reason and, again, things didn’t go too well in Ottawa and I came (to Calgary via trade) with a fresh start, which I’m always going to be (appreciative of).

“I still have a lot of potential. I’m 23 and I feel like I’m an experienced young player. This season it’s really big for me to develop.”

A former top-line centre who scored goals by the bushel in the WHL, Lazar scored just three in 69 games as a Flame, limited to the fourth line after early auditions with the big boys flopped.

“I think everyone knows I can plug in as a fourth-line guy and what you’re going to get from me — it’s an honest, hard-working game and physical,” he said, adding that he has lost his swagger.

“By all means, I can hold my own in this league. But I don’t want to be known as that fourth-line guy. I want to be someone who’s impacting here and relied upon in every situation. If I can go down, I’ll always bet on myself because I know in a couple months my game is going to come back and we’ll evaluate where I should be.

“If I can go down to the American League and play on the power play and handle the puck and be a go-to guy in every situation, it’s only going to help, so let’s do it.”

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