MALMO, SWEDEN – Brent Sutter is usually pretty honest when it comes to assessing his players both in words and actions. Team Canada's head coach has, at different times during the World Junior Hockey Championship, benched 16-year-old Connor McDavid and alternate captain Jonathan Drouin for taking untimely penalties.
After one pre-tournament game he declared Drouin's performance was "average at best." He noted goalie Jake Paterson would want a couple goals back after a loss to the Czech Republic.
On Wednesday, Sutter had another blunt assessment, but this one was of the positive variety when asked about Edmonton Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar and specifically how he's adjusting to playing the wing.
"Obviously, he's been one of our best forwards if not our best so we got to make sure he feels comfortable."
Lazar, a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators last June, started Tuesday's game against the United States on left wing before shifting to the right. On Wednesday, he was back on the right wing skating alongside centre Nic Petan and Connor McDavid at practice.
"We talked after the first period and he was having a bit of difficulty with that position so I moved him back and he got his game right back where he was before," said Sutter.
"It's definitely unique that's for sure," said Lazar, who has also taken shifts at centre, which is the position he plays in the WHL. "I played all three positions in one game, which is something I've never done before. I started at left wing against the Americans and I was struggling a little bit so Sutter moved me to the right side where I feel a little more comfortable. It's about versatility and I want to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
The numbers back up Sutter's assessment that Lazar has been among the most effective Canadian forwards. He has two goals and three assists through four games while playing on both special teams units and in key defensive situations. Lazar has also come through in the clutch. His third-period goal against the Americans stood up as the game winner.
With nine centres on the roster a number of the 13 forwards have had to shift to the wing, which has turned Sutter into a mad scientist at times as he searches for a winning formula.
"It's been a revolving door," the coach acknowledged. "There's not really a plan in place. You just have a feel for your team. If something's not working, you've got to change. You don't have time to let it progress over a month. If something's not working or someone's not playing well, you have to change it up quickly."
Lazar's ability to adapt, at least at right wing, has given Sutter some much-needed flexibility.
"I love skating and I love this big ice," Lazar, a Vernon, B.C. native, said. "It gives me a lot of time to wind-up, get in on the forecheck and do my thing."