Shortly before the Buffalo Sabres assigned Curtis Lazar to the minors last year, the center confidently stated he knew he belonged in the big leagues.
Joining the Sabres as a free agent had refreshed Lazar, and he believed he could make an impact. But several days later, Lazar, who had played only one NHL game the previous season, would clear waivers and be assigned to the Rochester Americans to start the campaign.
Lazar, however, only lasted 18 games in the AHL. After shuttling between Buffalo and Rochester for two months, he began earning consistent NHL duty around Christmastime.
By the end of the season, the affable Lazar, 25, had established himself as one of the Sabres’ regular forwards, scoring five goals and 10 points in 38 games.
On Thursday, the Sabres re-signed Lazar to a two-year, $1.6 million contract. He would’ve become an unrestricted free agent next month.
“I know all along in my head that I am an NHL player,” Lazar said in January. “But it’s a matter of showing that but also getting the opportunity and being utilized in the right place.”
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger utilized Lazar in a slew of roles, including as a penalty killer and winger. In the winter, Lazar shifted back to center, his natural position, and began enjoying arguably a career-best stretch.
Lazar set career high in goals per game and faceoff percentage (51.2) in 2019-20. Krueger often leaned on him to take critical draws.
He will likely use Lazar in a third- or fourth-line checking role again next season.
Lazar, the 17th overall pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2013, has compiled 20 goals and 61 points in 284 career NHL games. He cracked the NHL as a teenager and spent three seasons with Ottawa before being traded to the Calgary Flames.