When Team Canada opens its annual summer development camp ahead of December's 2015 World Junior tournament, the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets will be the two most well-represented teams at the camp with three players apiece. Among those Sens participants, Curtis Lazar returns to the camp as a veteran of the 2014 tournament while fellow prospects Ben Harpur and newcomer Nick Paul will join him in Quebec from August 3 to 8.
As one of 11 returning players from Canada's 2014 roster and one of the top players in the last tournament, Lazar is entering the camp to, first and foremost, earn his spot and be a leader for the Canadians going into 2015. As he notes, however, "nothing is set in stone" when it comes to the roster this time around.
"I was actually working out when I got the call," said Lazar. "Ryan Jankowski called me later in the day and we talked a little bit about last year and what's going to change this year. We have to become world class players to be able to compete in this tournament. That's what it's all about."
With a year of experience under his belt in the U20 setting, Lazar hopes to be a big player for Canada once again. While some of the awe is removed with 2015 potentially being his second time at the World Juniors, the opportunity to represent Canada in Canada has him excited.
"I want to be a big part of the team. I felt I was last year and I had an impact on it," said Lazar. "It's going to be such a special time with the tournament being in Montreal and Toronto but it's baby steps and we've got to focus on the summer camp first."
At the conclusion of last year's tournament, Lazar heaped praise on Edmonton Oil Kings teamamte Griffin Reinhart for offering his support through the process. Lazar may be playing a similar role in Ottawa very soon as Harpur and Paul get set for their first summer development camps with Hockey Canada.
"We want to see them succeed but we're also competing together. If they need any advice I'm going to be a guy they can come and talk to."
Ben Harpur and his agent had heard rumblings that he was on Hockey Canada's radar, but it didn't prevent "the call" from being a humbling experience. Roughly a year after being a fourth round selection of the Senators at the NHL Draft, he now has the chance to earn a spot to represent his country on the international stage.
"It was in the back of my mind and then he called me and told me. I was kind of in shock, I don't think I think I said anything to him for 10 seconds. It was just silence," said Harpur. "It was really, really cool."
Harpur is approaching the upcoming camp with a "nothing to lose" mentality in an effort to leave the best impression he can. Much of that job will involve channeling the lessons of an OHL Championship season with the Guelph Storm and the professional guidance of a Sens development camp. The good news is there will be plenty of familar faces to help rekindle that success. Not only will he be alongside his two Sens teammates, but three members of the Storm as well.
"I know a lot of people going and it'll be nice to have some familiar faces there. It'll be a good experience."
He will be one of 12 defenceman trying to earn a spot on the roster.
Nick Paul added to the Sens' Team Canada tally when he was traded to Ottawa in the deal which sent Jason Spezza to Dallas on July 1. After a season in which he scored 26 goals for the OHL finalist North Bay Battalion as their top line centre, the Mississauga, Ont. native and youngest player of the three got his call at home.
"I was at home and had just woke up when he called me. I didn't realize who he was at first and then it clicked in," said Paul. "I was hoping to make it but I wasn't sure. I was really excited, really ecstatic and I've been working that much harder in the gym, getting better every day so I can make that team and make the country proud."
Given this stands to be Paul's first trip to a Hockey Canada development camp of this calibre, the 19-year-old has amped up his summer training with the specific goal of making Team Canada. For a player who sees himself as "underrated" on a regular basis, the chance to represent his country isn't something to be taken for granted.
"I know it's going to be really hard," said Paul. "I'm getting myself in the best shape I possibly can, getting my hands and my skating. I'm going to go there and kill it hopefully."
"It's going to be the highest level, you have to become an elite player. A world class player. That's where I'm trying to get to. I'm working with special people — sprint coaches, skating coaches, on-ice coaches — especially in the gym. I'm just trying to prepare myself to be a world class player."
While it remains to be seen how many future Senators will be a part of the final Team Canada to hit the ice on Boxing Day, the number of invites certainly bodes well for the future of the club. Many of the team's current top players — Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, Clarke MacArthur, Mika Zibanejad and more — all had strong showings at the World Juniors during their junior careers and have gone on to become valuable NHLers.
With these three players in the running to don a Canada jersey in international competition, they not only give us a glimpse into what they can do for Canadian medal hopes, but what awaits the Senators' future.
As things stand, that glimpse is very bright.
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