Jeremy Lauzon was enjoying a breakthrough junior hockey season when he was reminded just how dangerous the game can be.
During last spring's Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, the Bruins draftee fell to the ice behind the net and felt something on the side of his neck as he rose to get back into the play.
At first Lauzon thought it was a high stick. Then he saw the blood on the ice, and realized he'd been cut with an errant skate blade.
It was a scary situation, to say the least, for the Quebec-born Lauzon, who posted 10 goals and 50 points in 46 games for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies as a 19-year-old defenseman last season.
"I was really lucky," he said. "I had a neck-guard, but it got me between the neck-guard and the helmet. The only thing I think you can do to [help prevent something like that] is to get up off the ice as quickly as possible."
Lauzon underwent immediate surgery to re-attack nerve and muscle that had been severed in the incident, which clearly could have been life-threatening had medical officials not intervened as quickly as they did.
"I wasn’t scared to get back on the ice, it was just tough mentally because I couldn’t get out and help my teammates on the ice during that series," he said. “We won that series and I had a chance to come back, too. It went pretty well all things considered. I came back to play five games in the Memorial Cup. It was tough, but I was trying to be positive.”
Lauzon could have had complications involving the strength and mobility in his right arm, but everything worked out for the 2015 second-round pick, who looked as good as ever during last week’s Development Camp.
The knock on some players, like defenseman Jakub Zboril, is that the focused effort isn’t always there. That's never the case with Lauzon.
“It was a very scary injury and after it happened we all talked to him as an organization,” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, who was in charge of player development last season. “He was committed to getting back for the Memorial Cup, and sure enough he was back in May. He is a dedicated kid. When you watch him out there he’s really competitive and he’s got high character. Those are the kinds of players that you’re looking for.
“He put up a lot of points. He likes to jump up into the play, but he’s also a smart player that pays attention at both ends of the ice. He had an impressive year last year.”
Lauzon is expected to go back to junior hockey for a fourth season in the “Q”, and could be in line for a monster campaign as he focuses on the areas Boston has outlined for his improvement.
“They want to see me get more mobile in the defensive zone, and to get bigger and more physical,” said Lauzon. “I think I did that pretty well last year, and offensively that was pretty good, too. I thought I had a great season, and the offense was really rolling. Now I’m coming here with that in the background, and hopefully at main camp this year that I’m going to be ready.
“Last year at main camp it was all new for me, but I now I know what to expect and I’ll be more ready. I want to be one of those players that is going to be really tough to play against in all areas. That’s my goal.”
But there’s also a chance Lauzon could be the kind of young player to “pop” in training camp. The skating game is there, the shot is certainly there and his outlet passing out of the defensive zone was pretty good in Development Camp.
There’s also the added benefit that Lauzon’s play seems to go up a notch once the puck is dropped. He returned from the frightening neck injury and wound up with eight points in nine total playoff games, before and after the injury, while showing the hardnosed toughness Boston is looking for in its players.
“Jeremy’s compete level is off the charts,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “You realize he had a very scary injury and he circled the calendar that he was going to be back for the Memorial Cup. His doctors, his parents -- and his parents are actual doctors-- are saying put the brakes on here, but he made it back and I was actually there to see him play first game back after being off [with injury].
“The competitive nature didn’t take a backseat despite the injury. Developmentally he’s got areas [to improve], just like everybody else, and they’ll continue to focus on and work on. We’ve identified them and we’ll talk to him about it, but he’s excited about coming to camp. I’ve said all along the players will dictate when they play [in the NHL]. The trajectory is not predetermined. When the pond gets a little deeper, are you able to swim and stay there? Each player will have to determine that themselves.”
So the projection may be sooner, though more likely later, for Lauzon. Still, the youngster already seems to be on the trajectory for a top-4 role at the NHL level given his puck skills, his all-out effort in both zones and a 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame that projects to get bigger and stronger.
Right now Lauzon is one of the lesser-known prospects for the B’s because he wasn’t a first-round phenom. But he could end up being the best defenseman of them all.